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Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm) is a middle aged lawyer rounding up clients in a small Canadian town during winter, after a school bus accident that devastates most families. He wants to go to court and sue whoever he can to compensate for their loss – to ‘direct their rage’. He gets nothing unless there is a payout, of which he takes a third. The two survivors of the crash are the bus driver, Dolores (Gabrielle Rose) and teenager Nicole (Sarah Polley), and like the rest of the living in the town, they have been deeply traumatised. Billy Ansell (Bruce Greenwood) is the lone voice who wants Mitchell out of town and off the case – and the case forgotten. It was an accident. Stephens ploughs on, feeling a sad empathy with the parents who’ve lost their children, while he maintains a tenuous phone relationship with his grown up, drug dependant, distant daughter, Zoe (Caethan Banks). But in the end, it is Nicole who takes a decision that leaves the town to find its own peace in ‘the sweet hereafter’.

"From the opening moment to the closing shot, The Sweet Hereafter is a gripping and fascinating journey through an emotional and psychological forest, in an ever-surprising series of glimpses deep into the hearts and souls of an entire community. Composer Mychael Danna contributes significantly, with an innovative score and orchestrations, extending the musical palate with instruments like the Persian ney. Egoyan’s scintillating cinematic touches sparkle throughout the film, like diamonds on the handle of a scythe in the hands of the grim reaper. Moving easily back and forth in time – yet avoiding cliché or stylisation – Egoyan develops the film not so much like a story and a subplot, but as a living snapshot from the town’s photo album, flipped by an unseen, sympathetic relative. Ian Holm’s meticulous, closely observed (and closely shot), complex characterisation deftly carries his own personal story and his professional gambit in one smoothly melded display. Sara Polley is every bit as good as she needs to be to portray the suffering youngster whose hopes of a singing career are tragically cut short. There is one vaguely disturbing and inexplicable scene between her and her father Sam (Tom McManus) which appears to be the precursor to consensual sex – but no reference is ever made to it, directly or indirectly, again. This oddity apart, The Sweet Hereafter is satisfyingly challenging in the way it unfolds, but also in its emotional payload. The film is fabulous to watch – whether for the landscapes or the close ups – and the microscopic details of these lives come roaring at us like emotional missiles, often out of the blue."
Andrew L. Urban

"Atom Egoyan's latest is probably the best new film I've seen this year (except Kundun). Less hermetic than Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter has much the same arty sheen: solemn, not quite credible dialogue carries us through slow cycles of recurring imagery, as we observe various 'ordinary' citizens both before and after the horrific bus accident that devastates their lives. This accident is far from the only trauma to surface in the film, where histories of pain expand outward like cracks in the ice; the impossibility of finding causes or assigning blame is part of Egoyan’s subject, and (as in Exotica) the flashback structure powerfully mimes the processes of grief, in its obsessive, futile going-over of the past. What the film also captures, though, is the flip side of grief, a kind of giddy, unfathomable weightlessness: something we begin to feel as we return over and over to long-shots of the bus on its fated journey, winding silently round the snowy hills, viewed from ever-longer perspectives in space and time. This weightlessness is part of the subject too, and is felt everywhere – especially in Egoyan’s oddly cagey, glancing presentation of some murky relationships between the townspeople. Taking the pushiness of its emotion-peddling lawyer as a warning, the film is all about maintaining a delicacy and distance in the face of the fragile emotional landscape of trauma – the ‘sweet hereafter’ of the mysterious, not quite ironic title, ‘where everything is strange and new.’"
Jake Wilson

"The Sweet Hereafter is director Atom Egoyan's most assured and complete movie to date, as well as his most accessible. Amplifying many of the themes explored in his previous outing, Exotica, the Canadian director/writer/producer shows the powerful effects of grief and anger on a community devastated by an unspeakable tragedy. During the course of this 110-minute, emotionally- turbulent experience, Egoyan doesn't ask any easy questions or propose any pat answers. This is film making at its most powerful: drama capable of shaking the soul, yet free of even the slightest hint of manipulation, sentimentality, or mawkishness. Thematically, the film continues to explore many of his prevalent concerns, including that of emotional isolation, further bridging a curious gap between the screen and his audience. Egoyan has certainly grown as an artist, cinematically, and on a purely artistic and cerebral level, Sweet Hereafter is an intoxicating and inspiring work, from its opening frozen images, to the remarkable bus crash sequence done without the expense of larger-than-life special effects. In the central role, Ian Holm delivers a masterful and deeply complex performance, one of the most compelling of the year, and he's joined by an accomplished ensemble cast. Beautifully shot, the Canadian landscape further heightens the film's depth and power. Though there is no denying the film's skill, its main flaw is precisely that quality that Egoyan brings to his work, an air of detachment that, in the case of this film, seems at times, far too obvious for its own good. Yet, at a time when the cinema offers audiences quick fixes and narrative simplicity, it's refreshing that a film maker such as Egoyan can deliver intelligent, complex dramas minus the proverbial pat endings."
Paul Fischer

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CAST: Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood, Tom McManus, Gabrielle Rose, Arsinee Khanjian, Alberta Watson, Maury Chaykin, Brooke Johnson, Earl Pastko, Stephanie Morgenstern, Caethan Banks

DIRECTOR: Atom Egoyan

PRODUCER: Atom Egoyan, Camelia Frieberg

SCRIPT: Atom Egoyan (from novel by Russell Banks)


EDITOR: Susan Shipton

MUSIC: Mychael Danna


RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney & Melbourne: July 16, 1998; Canberra July 30, 1998; other states to follow

Video release: March 23, 1999
Video distributor: Roadshow Home Entertainment

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