Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan has explored a wealth of recurring motifs throughout his career thus far. These include repeated inspections of identity, performance and voyeurism amidst wider contexts such as familial anxiety and immigration. The first flex of his distinct voice can be found in his more than capable feature debut, Next of Kin (1984), which is now rereleased on UK DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Artificial Eye. In little over an hour he manages to address many of the elements that would define his later work and create a compelling piece of cinema, though it will not be to all tastes.
Renowned for his dispassionate characters, his first protagonist was a prime example. Peter (Patrick Tierney) is a young man emotionally disconnected from his endlessly arguing parents and without any direction in life. Having developed a coping mechanism in which he pretends to be other people, said folks attempt to snap Peter out of his bizarre malaise, through unconventional therapy in which subjects are filmed and then encouraged to examine themselves from tapes.
When watching back their session, Peter comes across the recording of an older chat with an Armenian family – the Deryans – who’ve never come to terms with giving up their baby for adoption decades ago. Peter visits them under the pretence of being their long lost son, Bedros, and is welcomed with opens arms. Placing familial disharmony front and centre, Next of Kin follows Peter as he flees the oppressive and stagnant environment of his own home for the discord of this new surrogate family. The Deryans’ tempestuous daughter, Azah (Arsinée Khanjian, Egoyan’s partner), is forever at loggerheads with her father, George (Berj Fazalian) who unquestionably blames her for not being the son he gave up.
This is not just a manifestation of his regret over Bedros however, but also a fear of the Canadian mind-set that she has grown up with and this sense of identity pervades the whole film. Peter, it seems, is attempting to repairing the fractured relationship between father and daughter as a substitute for his own. From the off, it is abundantly clear that Peter has no fully formed identity of his own. Living a sheltered life under the same roof as – but distant from – his parents he has never had the chance to mature into one. The visit to the Deryans affords him to opportunity to evolve into an embodiment of Bedros and this is beautifully intertwined by Egoyan with the essence of naturally developing a new identity when arriving in a new country as an immigrant, as George and his wife did.
The deadpan, slightly stilted performances may prove a hurdle for some, but they also serve to accentuate the implicit themes surrounding the notion acting as another person; a native, a long lost son. Whether or not it is for everyone, Next of Kin is a certainly a film that would have announced Egoyan as an exciting new talent and laid the foundations for much of his cinematic output to come.
Win a Blu-ray copy of Atom Egoyan’s Next of Kin with our latest competition. Follow this link to enter.