Felicia's Journey Review

Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) is alone, pregnant and just arrived in Birmingham from Ireland. She's in search of her boyfriend Johnny (Peter McDonald), who is now a soldier in the British Army. She is befriended by Mr Hilditch (Bob Hoskins), a owner of a catering company, who helps her look for Johnny. But Hilditch is not the kindly old bachelor he appears to be at first.

Canadian director Atom Egoyan's earlier films, such as The Adjuster, were distanced and stylised, obsessed with themes of communication between people or the lack of it. They were undeniably clever and talented, but rather cold. With Exotica and especially The Sweet Hereafter he began to make films that engage an audience on more than a cerebral level. Felicia's Journey, based on William Trevor's Booker-nominated novel, is a slow-burning but stylish psychological thriller. It's not on the same level as The Sweet Hereafter, but it's no disgrace as a follow-up. Bob Hoskins is hardly obvious casting as a Brummie, but he gives a subtly chilling performance as the seemingly harmless but secretly dangerous Hilditch. Elaine Cassidy's adeptly conveys Felicia's outer naïveté and deeper toughness. Egoyan and his cinematographer Paul Sarossy have an acute eye for locations. This film shows how cinematically little-used England's second city has been.

Video, as a surrogate for human interaction, featured largely in Egoyan's early work, and that continues in Felicia's Journey. Hilditch is still haunted by his late mother, a professional-Frenchwoman TV chef, and he watches videos of her obsessively. (She's played by Arsinée Khanjian, who is Egoyan's wife, and although these scenes are a little indulgent, they do add humour to the film.) Egoyan's interest in non-linear narrative structure is evident here too, with flashbacks to Felicia's past in rural Ireland. These sequences tread more familiar ground: we've already had plenty of reminders of how conservative Irish society can be.

Two words sum up Warner Home Video's DVD: "curate's egg". Felicia's Journey was shot in Scope, but the DVD transfer is 4:3, apart from the opening credits which are in 2.35:1. There really isn't any excuse for this, though it should be said that the picture quality is very good: a clear, sharp transfer with virtually no artefacting. The soft-focus backgrounds are due to the anamorphic lenses the film was shot with. It's clear that Egoyan and Sarossy composed their shots so that the sides could be cropped for full-frame TV showings, but you do have to ask why this has been done for a DVD release when far less deserving films get 2.35:1 anamorphic transfers. Even a choice of widescreen and full-frame transfers would have been preferable. Nor is there justification for a Dolby Surround track when the film was released to cinemas in Dolby Digital, though again the film is dialogue-based without any very elaborate sound mix. There are no subtitles, and a none-too-generous eighteen chapter stops.

Egoyan's commentary won't please everyone: it's a two-hour analysis of the film we're watching, pointing out themes and symbols and their developments. Despite the increased emotional content of his later films, it's clear he's far more engaged by ideas. As such, his commentary is on the dry side. Anyone looking for chatty anecdotes had better look elsewhere, though in fairness Egoyan is very interesting. You do realise how much thought has gone into seemingly minor details. That is the only extra: there's not even a trailer.

Although I can recommend the film, I can't recommend this DVD. Artisan's Region 1 version (reviewed here) has the commentary, plus the trailer and TV spots, talent bios, a featurette and deleted scenes, and an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. By comparison, Warner's disc makes you realise why Region 2 had a bad reputation in the first place.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 20:24:57

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