The Sweet Hereafter 2.0 stars

Frigid Canadian film about a multiple-fatality school-bus accident and its aftermath: well worked out thematically, not so well dramatically. Though the readings from, and congruencies with, Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin (in a handsome volume illustrated by Kate Greenaway) are heavy-handed and over-obvious, the idea of "loss" is resourcefully pursued in unexpected directions, beginning of course with the death of loved ones and then fanning out into the loss of youth and loss of innocence (incest rears its ugly head, in a rather prettified and preposterous tableau of music-video candles arrayed among hay bales) and loss of a child to drugs, the symbol of a whole Lost Generation. The ambulance-chasing attorney ("There is no such thing as an accident") is a weak motor with which to drive the narrative, however, and quite literally so when his class-action suit sputters to a halt in the face of an easily contradictable lie. There are several cooling effects on the emotional temperature: the disruptive nonlinear storytelling technique, the precise austere antiseptic imagery of director Atom Egoyan (The Adjuster, Exotica), the extreme long shot of the accident itself, and, most helpfully, the flaws, the sins, the simple humanness of the unidealized citizens of the community. At the same time, or intermittently anyway, the folk songs and Renaissance lute and recorder on the soundtrack raise the tone of high seriousness to a rarefied level no human drama could ever live up to. Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood, Alberta Watson, Maury Chaykin. 1997.

Duncan Shepherd

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