Felicia

on November 12, 1999 by Lael Loewenstein
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Atom Egoyan's last Cannes entry was the stark, stunning "The Sweet Hereafter," based on the Russell Banks novel, which concerned a town's reaction to a horrible school bus accident. A subplot of that film involved the incestuous relationship between a father and daughter. Here again Egoyan examines and older man/teenage girl dynamic, but the mood, tone and backdrop are strikingly different. Aided by a uniformly superb cast, Egoyan triumphs in a pared-down film that makes chillingly impressive use of his signature themes, including voyeurism, denial and humans desperate to connect.
   Bob Hoskins is impeccably cast as Hilditch, a seemingly gentle man who runs a catering company in Birmingham and spends his evenings alone in the kitchen emulating reruns of his mother's cooking show. Felicia (a quietly graceful Elaine Cassidy), meanwhile, is an Irish girl who has come to Birmingham in search of her lover Johnny (Peter McDonald), a cad who left Ireland without so much as a forwarding address. Innately trusting, Felicia believes he's gone to England for work, though her father (Gerald McSorley) insists Johnny's betrayed his countrymen to join the British army. Hilditch and Felicia cross paths, at first by coincidence and later by his own design.
   What we don't initially know but later discover is that Hilditch has a history of befriending homeless girls. Hilditch, who Hoskins has aptly described as a cross between Winnie the Pooh and Jack the Ripper, is such a gentle soul that even when his dark side begins to emerge, he's still somehow likable. Flashbacks of childhood scenes with his domineering, self-involved mother suggest that she inhibited his development, but much is left unexplained. A loner like Hilditch, Felicia has also been a victim-of a patriarchal society, of her unsympathetic father, of her insensitive lover.
   Whether she will become a victim of Hilditch, too, is the compelling question that drives the story forward. To his credit, Egoyan is never predictable. Even a penultimate scene that Hollywood would have surely played as a deus ex machina sequence is handled, like so much else in this film, with surprising deftness and originality. Starring Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy and Peter McDonald. Written and directed by Atom Egoyan. Produced by Bruce Davey. An Artisan release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 116 min.
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