Like a dowser who can divine hidden sources of water, Atom Egoyan has a talent for locating the dream-state perversity that runs just under the surface of everyday life. In the past the gifted Canadian filmmaker told his own looking-glass stories, but beginning with his adaptation two years ago of Russell Banks’ novel ”The Sweet Hereafter,” he has made intensely personal pictures inspired by the work of others.
Felicia’s Journey, based on William Trevor’s psychologically shivery novel of the same name, pokes into the auteur’s favorite pits of sexual darkness, spiritual hunger, and human disconnectedness in the story of an exceptionally naive Irish girl (Elaine Cassidy) who leaves her insular home and makes her way to the English Midlands to search for the man she thinks she loves.
Clueless on the grimy streets and, it turns out, pregnant, she crosses fatefully into the insular world of Mr. Hilditch (Bob Hoskins, channeling something of the sheet music salesman he so famously played two decades ago in TV’s ”Pennies From Heaven”), a tidy catering manager with an insidiously warped interest in ”rescuing” the young woman.
Egoyan has heaps to work with here, but the heaps, ironically, begin to get in the way of the emotional and spiritual climax: In his restless desire to convey psychological states with visual style, the director’s flights of fancy (particularly those involving his wife, Arsinée Khanjian, as the campily glamorous cooking instructor Mr. Hilditch likes to watch on video) look too determinedly fanciful.
Still, there are also moments of such striking desolation and veiled evil that I wish the filmmaker would take on something more deeply in need of Egoyan-ization. ”Felicia’s Journey” is easy; ”Touched by an Angel” is hard.