(Toronto) On a sunny August morning, filmmaker Atom Egoyan stands silently in a dark post-production room. With his upcoming feature Seven Veils, projecting rays from the cinema screen in front of him, he is putting the finishing touches to the final cut, perfecting what he can before its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
“It’s a very personal story,” Egoyan says of the opera-inspired feature film. “This movie is very much about my personal experiences and I hope everyone can enjoy this finished version. »
Seven Veils stars Amanda Seyfried as a theater manager reworking a production of Salome after the death of her mentor who was previously responsible for it. Over time, his world begins to unravel as his tormented past speaks through his artistic interpretations of the play.
The film will premiere on Friday.
The completion of this film means a lot to Egoyan. During an interview at a studio in downtown Toronto, he explains the roots of his passion for the project, between audio insertion instructions to his team and incoming business calls in the pre-TIFF rush.
“Since I staged the biblical opera Salomé in 1996, on which Seven Veils is based, I realized that I had been haunted by its particular themes for some time,” recounted the 63-year-old filmmaker who was born in Cairo to Armenian parents and raised in British Columbia.
“The way we reconfigure our own stories to suit our needs came up a lot in my early films,” he said, noting that he himself has seen loved ones hide troubled pasts and that it basically serves to silence people.
Seven Veils was filmed at the Four Seasons, the same location where he made Salome for the Canadian Opera Company. This connection leads him to reflect on how he overcame his own challenges in re-editing the production of Oscar Wilde, which depicts the beheading of Jochanaan (Jean-Baptiste) at the behest of the Jewish princess Salome.
“The opera is the main working environment for my film,” Egoyan explained. It is an environment that I know very well. »
Since 1905, Richard Strauss’s operatic adaptation of the 1891 play has continually sparked controversy, given the biblical crescendo of the stripping of the teenage Salome’s leaves for her stepfather Herod in exchange for John’s severed head. Baptiste.
Similar to a fragmented flashback sequence hinting at an unusual bond between father and daughter in Seven Veils, Egoyan’s 1996 opera production chose to depict scenes from Salome’s childhood, insinuating case of sexual assault. It was a choice that aroused the concern of prominent cultural critics of the time, who felt tormented by these images.
“It was at a time when we had no warnings, so many were unprepared for what they were about to see,” explained the filmmaker, who has helmed the project for the stage four times since 1996. .
“When I was given the chance to put the piece together, I knew I couldn’t present the same version – it wasn’t responsible in today’s culture, so in a way, I narrated this process through the character of Amanda using themes from this play, which continue to haunt me. »
“Here you have a woman in Seven Veils, who is dealing with her history of violence and repression as she directs this play and it’s the kind of storyline that has always appealed to me […] How those those in power, like parents, can work to reconfigure and bury our histories,” he added.
Egoyan credits hidden wounds as the defining connective tissue of his early filmography, most notable being his acclaimed 1997 Oscar-nominated film The Sweet Hereafter, starring Sarah Polley, which explores the aftermath of a bus crash in a small town and in a context of sexual assault.
It’s a situation the director says he experienced first-hand, drawing on a relationship he had during his teenage years.
“I gradually discovered that she was abused by her father,” Egoyan said of his first love. Nobody talked about it and she certainly wasn’t talking about it or trying to think about it. »
“I tried to understand things through his behavior […] and the dynamics of what seemed unfamiliar and reconfigured by his parents fascinated me – and, in a way, haunted me. »
Seven Veils, he says, is another avenue for exploring the complexities of what often lies behind our veiled surfaces. It’s a concept he also explored in the 1994 psychological drama Exotica and the 2009 erotic thriller Chloe, which also starred Seyfried.