Seven Veils

Seven Veils
Seven Veils
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Atom Egoyan’s Seven Veils is a film that premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie also brings together Amanda Seyfried and Egoyan since they last worked together for Chloe fifteen years back. Chloe and Seven Veils are an interesting pair: both are shot and set in Toronto, and explore the darkness within human minds while involving Seyfried as women finding themselves.

Seyfried stars as Jeanine, a theatre director recruited to remount a production of Salome for the Canadian Opera Company in memory of its late creator, Charlie (who used to be Jeanine’s mentor). The company wanted it to be exactly like how Charlie had done it originally, but she insisted on some small meaningful changes. This disagreement puts her into conflict with all those involved in the production including cast members as well as technical team. To make matter worse, pressures at work compound with stresses at home, as Jeanine suspects her husband of having an affair with her mother’s caregiver.

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes drama unfolds: Clea (Rebecca Liddiard), a prop manager trying to please Jeanine’s whims while ensuring that Rachel (Vinessa Antoine), who works as Salome’s understudy gets a chance to perform on stage once in her lifetime; Luke (Douglas Smith), another understudy who was once Jeanine’s friend can’t prevent himself from developing feelings towards his director whether they’re mutual or not; finally there is also a sexual assault incident which could ruin the opening night of their remounting.

Reading Seven Veils’ plot summary may seem like there would be too much action going on this case sometimes it certainly feels that way. However, Egoyan uses Salome’s remount cleverly forcing Jeanine to face past traumas during its performance. Moreover many visual cues used by Charlie when he first created it were taken directly from videos made by Jeanine’s father during her childhood, videos that in certain sense can be seen as early attempts at expressing some artistic talent but were just creepy.

In this way, the rehearsals feel like Jeanine’s psyche spilled onstage. Production designer Philip Barker makes the space look like something straight out of a silent era horror film, and cinematographer Paul Sarossy’s camera often feels like it’s stalking Jeanine through each scene. What’s more, cameras and lenses run through the narrative as an important motif from Jeanine’s home videos to her video diary kept throughout rehearsals to daily video calls with her mother and husband; this seeing and being seen underline how both subject and creator she is, of not only the opera but also of a film which are two contradictory things that she must harmonize somehow.

In some instances, Seven Veils requires — or even forces — a lot of endurance from us as it is filling in the missing pieces slowly. Whatever its pace towards answers to burning questions however boring it might be, the key point here is how good Seyfried is. Though Jeanine tries hard to keep her demons at bay, the opera cannot but expose and deepen cracks on her face through which memories she had tried to conceal by force or mistaken for something else exploded back again: Seyfried’s portrayal of passionate artist on the edge was amazing.

Perhaps Seyfried’s most memorable work came with Chloe, which marked a significant shift in her career away from being seen as a typical blonde-haired next-door neighbor type that was unthinkingly imprinted upon her from roles in Mean Girls and Mamma Mia! Yet, when it comes to Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, the actress proved that she could handle more complex material. Seven Veils feels like an extension of that movie now with Seyfried evincing the kind of emotional flexibility one can only say reinforces the fact that she is among today’s most fascinating actresses.

The biggest drawback though to Seyfried being so captivating in Seven Veils is just how difficult it becomes to engage with the various subplots taking place within this narrative. While Liddiard, Antoine and Smith are all good actors who help shape Jeanine’s story as a director in this opera thus giving life to a theater company; their own plots feel less fleshed out by comparison though. Clea’s arc loses its way especially when it comes down and given without spoiling too much about how her storyline contributes (at least indirectly) toward talking about abuse of power generally in society particularly where women have been mostly affected disproportionately at workplaces but does not really connect enough hence making it less effective.

Nevertheless having Egoyan’s critical eye back on cinema screens always feels nice. Some viewers may find Seven Veils annoying, but it is a movie that makes one think, celebrates the art of making and tells us why we need it.

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