Canada on Screen: The Sweet Hereafter

Poster for Canada on Screen: The Sweet Hereafter

Throughout his illustrious career, Atom Egoyan (Adoration) has continually challenged and rewarded audiences with his innovative and personal approach to cinema. The Sweet Hereafter, winner of the 1997 Grand Prix at Cannes, is as impressive as anything he has made, but Egoyan’s mastery of imagery and narrative has never been used to such directly emotional ends.

Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter is an unspeakably powerful film about a community trying to cope with the aftermath of a tragedy. Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm, Chariots of Fire, Brazil), a big-city lawyer with an agenda, arrives in Sam Dent, British Columbia, to persuade various residents of the town to mount a class action suit against city authorities. Because of his efforts, the community is soon divided, rife with anger, suspicion, and recrimination. One man, Billy Ansell (Bruce Greenwood, Meek’s Cutoff, Barney’s Version), is already stridently opposed to the lawyer, and he is actively trying to enlist other residents in his crusade. But it is a young survivor named Nicole (Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell) who must grapple with the implications of whether to provide evidence or not.

Egoyan’s supporting cast features some of Canada’s finest actors, including Arsinée Khanjian, Gabrielle Rose, Alberta Watson, and the late Maury Choykin. Polley, McCamus, and Greenwood perform some of their finest work, and veteran Holm brings forth his character’s moral complexity with subtlety and skill. With The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan confronts the impact and meaning of tragedy, and the sense of community that binds us all.

This film screens on April 19, REEL CANADA’s National Canadian Film Day 150, as part of TIFF’s Canada on Screen programme. Canada on Screen celebrates the Sesquicentennial with free screenings of our country’s essential moving-image works throughout the year.