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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 July 2006, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Director chronicles wife's return
Atom Egoyan
Atom Egoyan's The Citadel is only receiving a limited release
Canadian-Armenian director Atom Egoyan has taken a major departure from his intense and often controversial dramas in his new film - a documentary in which he follows his wife on her first return to Lebanon in 28 years.

The director is best-known for making the sexually explicit Hollywood drama Where The Truth Lies - which starred Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon - and the controversial film Ararat, which explored the real-life massacre of ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman Empire over four years from 1915.

The Citadel, however, is a much more personal project, in which he follows his actress wife returning to her home in Lebanon after a 28 year absence.

"I remembered this footage that I shot on this family vacation to Beirut - and suddenly I put that into my computer, and I started playing around with it," Egoyan told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"I came up with this idea of having it as a voiceover, and constructing a letter to our son - talking about his parents' relationship - as a sort of time capsule, something he might watch in 10 years or so.

"So it's an examination of a number of relationships - parent to child and husband to wife - but also about a woman returning to a city she had to leave 28 years ago in the midst of the civil war."

Exciting technology

Egoyan admitted The Citadel is an "odd piece" - and that originally he had not imagined it would be shown to anyone else.

He explained that he has been filming his wife on and off for 20 years - and that one of the things he hoped The Citadel would explain to his son is this "strange relationship."

I think if this technology was available when Beckett was alive, it is something he certainly would have played with
Atom Egoyan
"It's also an opportunity in some ways to look at what the dynamics of that relationship are - where one part of the couple is being watched with such a degree of scrutiny all the time," he said.

"That can be very affectionate - as I think it is - but through the device of the voiceover I'm able to analyse my own motivation for doing that."

He admitted, however, that his wife is not often very comfortable with being filmed, and this is one of the reasons the film will receive only a limited distribution.

Meanwhile, Egoyan explained that The Citadel was one of a number of documentaries he feels are changing modern cinema, in particular in contrast with formulaic mainstream content.

"It's such an exciting time, because of the technology and the fact that people can record things so easily," he said.

"There was such mystification over how images are made - which is one of the secrets Hollywood was able to guard for so long. But now you can have colour, and synchronised, Dolby sound, with a consumer camera.

"The Citadel was shot on mini-DV with a handheld camera, and the quality is astounding."

Love of Beckett

He has similarly employed this love of new technology in a new version of the Samuel Beckett play Eh Joe, originally written for BBC television in 1958.

The play consists of a single camera shot in which a man is alone in a room. The camera draws ever closer to his face over 30 minutes, as a woman in the background is heard chastising him with the idea that he could forget her.

"I loved this piece from the moment I read it in my teens - and most people don't know the text, so I thought there had to be a way of bringing it back to a new public," Egoyan said.

"It's possible with the new technologies that you could have a live actor, on stage, behind a scrim - a material that can hold an image and yet allows you to see through it.

"If you have a camera with a long lens in the wings, observe Beckett's specific instructions - but you simultaneously project that on the scrim. I think if this technology was available when Beckett was alive, it is something he certainly would have played with."

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