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Guest of Honour: food inspector dishes up menacing drama

Father-daughter relationship is at the centre of thoughtful film that's full of time-lapse plot twists

04 June, 2020

David Thewlis as Jim Davis in Guest of Honour

GUEST OF HONOUR
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Certificate: 15
☆☆☆

WHEN a film deliberately muddies the waters as to what you are supposed to think about its characters, revelling in ambiguity as to who you should be rooting for, it feels disconcerting.

So while director Atom Egoyan has in parts created a sensitive, thoughtful drama, the leads fail to rouse a feeling of either warmth or disgust.

But rather than detract, it is a clever trick and keeps you guessing about the confusing and ambiguous motives the central characters possess.

Jim Davis (David Thewlis) is a food safety inspector, spending his days giving restaurants the once over and their owners chills as he approaches with a briefcase containing thermometers, swabs, ultra violet torches, testing kits and the make-or-break certificates declaring a kitchen safe or otherwise.

As he stalks the eateries of Ontario, Canada, he carries an air of depression with him – we learn his daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), a music teacher in a secondary school, is serving a sentence for sleeping with a pupil.

We then have Veronica talking with a priest (Luke Wilson) as she prepares a funeral for her dad – one of a series of time-jumps to slowly build up a plot.

We are taken to Veronica’s childhood and learn about a tragedy that befell the family, we are given a glimpse of her as a teacher and a composer, and then, after Jim’s death, how she is coming to terms with burying him.

We also watch as Jim visits her in prison – where she says she wants to serve her full sentence, a strangely detracting and undermining plot twist, as no prisoner says such things. Ever.

With the father/daughter relationship at its centre, this is a study of trying to understand the behaviour of someone you feel you know so well – but whose actions cause you confusion.

Thewlis’s turn keeps the film from capsizing in a sea of confusing time-lapse plot twists. He is quietly devastating as he looks down his nose at those around him, as if he is considering each character with the same detached disdain he feels for the greasy, germ-ridden kitchens he spends his working life in. His softly wielded power over restaurateurs gives him a constant air of menace he carries into his private life.

His is such a performance that you subconsciously wish he was in every scene. It was reminiscent of Alan Rickman at his best. You may find yourself waiting for him to reappear, whispering “yes, yes, get on with it” to the other actors when he is out of shot.

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