With a grand total of three Canadian films playing in the official competition, the recently wrapped Cannes Film Festival was a historic, landmark event for Canadian cinema.
But even though two of the films won major prizes (the best actress prize went to Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars and the jury prize went to Xavier Dolan for Mommy), the single greatest year for Canadians at Cannes remains 1997—the year that Atom Egoyan took home the Grand Prix for The Sweet Hereafter.
“That’s a tough one to top,” Egoyan admits in the new Nuvo Magazine. “I still think it was a fluke. People misread what my intentions were.”
According to Egoyan, audiences failed to understand the reason why Nicole (the paraplegic bus crash victim played by Sarah Polley) lied during her climactic deposition, wrongly assuming that her motive was to sink an ambulance-chasing lawyer’s frivolous class-action lawsuit and help the town heal. In Egoyan’s mind, however, Nicole lied in order to get revenge against her father (Tom McCamus), who had repeatedly molested her. As a result, a film that was meant to end on a dark, downbeat note accidentally ended on a more positive, feel-good note. “It was inadvertently a really accessible film,”; Egoyan says. “That wasn’t planned. It just happened to work out that way.”
Even though no Canadian film had ever won the Grand Prix before, Egoyan says that the 1997 Cannes victory still came as a disappointment to some. “There’s always someone around who will tell you it’s not high enough,” he says. “I was sitting at a café with the French distributor, and she got a phone call and started to cry. She held my hand and said, ‘I’ve got some really bad news.’ I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘You’ve won the Grand Prize.’ I said, ‘The Grand Prize sounds pretty good!’ But it could have been higher.”;
More on Nuvo“s full interview with Egoyan here.