(London Film Festival, October 8th, 2019, BFI Southbank, Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8XT, United Kingdom, 18:10 pm)
"Guest Of Honour"
Jim Davis (David Thewlis) and his daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), a young high-school music teacher, attempt to unravel their complicated histories and intertwined secrets in "Guest Of Honour", a film that weaves through time exploring perception and penance, memory and forgiveness. A hoax instigated by an aggressive school bus driver Mike (Rossif Sutherland) goes very wrong. Accused of abusing her position of authority with 17-year-old Clive (Alexandre Bourgeois) and another student, Veronica is imprisoned. Convinced that she deserves to be punished for crimes she committed at an earlier age, Veronica rebuffs her father’s attempts to secure her early release. Confused and frustrated by Veronica’s intransigence, Jim’s anguish begins to impinge on his job. As a food inspector, he wields great power over small, family-owned restaurants. It’s a power he doesn’t hesitate to use. While preparing Jim’s funeral, Veronica confides the secrets of her past to Father Greg (Luke Wilson) who may hold the final piece of this father-daughter puzzle.
"Guest Of Honour" is a twisting morality tale exploring the complicated relationship between Jim, and his daughter Veronica, a young high-school music teacher, and the past that haunts them both. As the film weaves through time, scenes from the past catch up to the present, illuminating dark secrets. Jim is a food inspector working in a multicultural city. For him, each establishment is a potential hazard. He has the power to shut down restaurants not observing health codes. It’s a power he doesn’t hesitate to wield. Part of Jim’s weekly ritual is visiting his daughter in prison. Having confessed to abusing her position of authority as a music teacher during a high school band trip, Veronica rebuffs her father’s attempts to secure an early release. Confused and frustrated by his daughter’s intransigence, Jim’s anguish begins to impinge on his work. Scenes from the band trip gradually reveal that Veronica and Clive, one of her senior students, turned the tables on Mike, their aggressive bus driver. Their prank spirals out of control and becomes the basis for the charges brought against Veronica. Over Jim’s visits with Veronica, it becomes clear that there's another history at play. Veronica is using the prison sentence to punish herself for earlier transgressions. When she was a young girl, Veronica believed that her father was having an affair with her music teacher. Tragedy unfolds, in which Veronica is implicated, but was never held responsible. As a teenager, she confessed to the teacher’s son, with devastating consequences. Having lived with these secrets for years, Veronica has found a unique way of serving her penance. Jim doesn’t seem at all aware of his daughter’s true history even though he finds himself increasingly implicated in the compelling revelations of Veronica’s personal narrative. Father and daughter move towards a resolution, which is brought to a brutal halt when Jim dies. As she prepares for Jim’s funeral, Veronica confides in Father Greg (Luke Wilson) who may hold the final piece to the puzzle of the past. "Guest Of Honour" is a disturbing and compelling study of perception, memory and forgiveness.
As a food inspector, Jim has the power to close a restaurant down, and while he uses this authority to determine other people’s destinies, he desperately tries to understand his own place in the world. Jim’s relationship with his daughter is obviously highly complex, that’s what the film is about. Realizing that the story really begins there, with the death of the mother. Jim is left on his own from then onwards, the fifteen intervening years between Veronica as young girl and Veronica as a woman. We've to understand what Jim so much loved about Veronica as a woman, a woman who’s gone off the rails, a woman who now baffles him, a woman who seems absolutely so incomprehensible in terms of her motives. And seeing that little girl playing the piano, the whole story becomes clear. Of course, there are sub-plots and various metaphorical issues and symbolism and storytelling, but it’s about a man trying to communicate with his daughter, trying to communicate the love he has for his daughter. That's utterly relatable in terms of how so many young people can get lost somewhere between adolescence and early adulthood, in all kinds of things that maybe one wouldn’t anticipate in their earlier years and can be catastrophic. It’s a terrible thing that’s happened really.
One of the Jim’s characteristics is this sense of power he wields as a food inspector which may sound a rather banal job description. It doesn’t evoke wonderful images of this is a fascinating character we want to get to know until you really go down that hole and see what the issues are with food inspectors, and what a power-complex this man has. Simply, he can wreak havoc on people’s lives, close down family businesses with the flick of a pen-based on opinion or perfidy. He starts to abuse his power and manipulate his occupation to his own ends. But he’s rather delusional. He sees himself as some saviour, as some campaigner for health and safety, health and cleanliness, the health code is his bible and it takes him over. We've a backstory where he started a restaurant and that seems to have been scuppered by what happened to Veronica. He has to walk away from that business because of the vicissitudes of Veronica’s life and whether he holds some resentment there's another thing to be discussed. Maybe he’s doing this job as some kind of revenge. Now he enters a restaurant with the power to destroy the business, the lives of the owners. His vocation is taken away from him, and now he can visit the same fate on others. There are many levels to this film, you keep discovering.
His daughter Veronica is a young music teacher who's passionate about her craft. But, she also carries trauma that bleeds into her relationship with her father. The film explores the complexities of family life. How family can absolutely make you or absolutely break you or both at the same time. The vast breadth of feelings, the turmoil those feelings cause! Music is very important to Veronica, it’s her source of joy and we’ll see in "Guest Of Honour" that she’s not always happy all the time so it will be nice to see the moments where she's lost in her music. She believes that she has found a way to a strange sort of peace in her life, until that is challenged by revelations of a past she never fully understood. She’s a character who’s broken, who makes impulsive, self-destructive decisions. We see her joy in music and we see her dark pain as well. With incarceration, she’s found a way of medicating herself. But it’s not sustainable and then something unexpected happens, which transforms her life. The character who holds the key to this past seems to be a priest. Father Greg is a Texan who's transplanted to Canada, The biggest mystery in the film is whether the food inspector Jim, in asking for his eulogy to be performed by this particular priest, has somehow planned an emotional reconciliation he could never have achieved with his daughter in life.
Father Greg is an unusual priest. He knows about Veronica who’s come to see him to arrange a funeral for Jim. As he talks with Veronica to learn details for the eulogy, Father Greg comes to understand that he knows a great deal about her narrative. But he’s bound by oath not to share his knowledge. He breaks his word because, he decides, it's critical for Veronica to understand her father. Rather than see her continue to suffer, living with false assumptions, Father Greg renounces his pledge. As viewers, we can locate ourselves in this very complex narrative in terms of how he sets himself within it. Father Greg has an unexpected front row seat to Veronica’s story. Father Greg is one of those characters that’s woven throughout the story, Not quite a narrator, and not the protagonist, but a figure that intersects with the different characters. In that way, he knows all of the people that the audience meets, at different times and in different situations. And often times, as we find out, he knows these very personal parts of some of the characters’ histories. Father Greg’s character is a way for the audience to keep up with the storyline and these characters whose lives interrelate. You've these imperfect, interwoven characters and then there’s the priest who’s something of a psychiatrist, or a psychologist, or a doctor, somebody that people go to and share their personal stories.
“Guest Of Honour" is an emotional investigation of the bond between a father and a daughter. Their history has been rocked by events that neither fully understands. They’re both in a suspended state for much of the film, trying to understand the nature of their connection to one another. There’s a very clear sense of time passing in this film. While we understand from the beginning that their physical relationship has ended with the father’s death, the details of their past are evealed in a form of psychological autopsy. The film finds a cinematic way of allowing the viewer to inhabit they particular world the characters are trying to navigate. The film explores what might be called the emotional chronology of Jim and his daughter, Veronica, a way of measuring their complex feelings. While the structure of the film is non-linear, it's actually based on a simple recounting of the scenes as they flow into the characters’ minds. While the situations specific to Jim and Veronica are extreme, the parent/child bond will be very familiar to audiences. The film creates a sense that for Jim and Veronica the scenes all play in a continuous and sometimes shocking sense of the ‘eternal present’. The film itself becomes a sort of machine through which the characters come to an understanding of what they mean to each other.
"Guest Of Honour" is a story told through glass. Apart from the actual glass of the camera lens, which displays the way in which images of the past can be refracted and refigured, there's a literal use of a glass musical instrument woven through the film. The use of glass as a distorting lens, as well as a material which allows the process of creative expression, is an important motif in "Guest Of Honour". The soundtrack wows in unexpected ways, as the characters come to terms with the complexity of their lives and the exoticism of their relationship to their own pasts. Every child feels their parents made mistakes, certain ways in which the parent did not express love, or pay the right sort of attention. Those moments reverberate through our lives in sometimes painful ways. "Guest Of Honour" covers such a wide range of time, you get to see the evolution of specific characters, which is very exciting. Our family has been around us for our entire lives, they’re everything we know. Sometimes we project our feelings onto them, sometimes we feel their words are hurtful, but that’s what having a family is all about. The film ends with an unexpected reconciliation.