Speaking Parts opens to a curious and baffling sequence of fragmented images, beginning with the medium shot of a lone, dark haired woman, later identified as Clara (Gabrielle Rose), as she makes her way through a cemetery that immediately cuts to an image of another lone, dark haired woman, Lisa (Arsinée Khanjian), a hotel laundry room operator as she fixedly stares at the television screen while watching an unremarkable videotape of a piano recital at an intimate concert hall. A progressive magnification of the video footage reveals the dissociated image of her myopic focus – the object of her unreciprocated gaze – as a near imperceptible actor working as a screen extra among the seated audience for the scene named Lance (Michael McManus), a hotel co-worker. The seemingly incongruent images then converge as an oblivious Lance washes his clothes in the basement laundry room of his apartment building as Lisa silently observes him from a nearby stairwell. Lisa’s somber image of unarticulated longing then carries into a cutaway shot back to Claire who now solemnly sits on an unoccupied bench surrounded by the sterile and impersonal burial placards of the anonymous occupants in the mausoleum, as she views an archived videotape image of her unidentified beloved: a cheerful, attractive young man walking down a hill who then smiles broadly, but enigmatically as he pauses in his approach to rendezvous with the unseen operator behind the camera. A remote teleconference with a film producer subsequently establishes that Claire is the screenwriter of an autobiographical story who has been called into town in order to provide input towards resolving and finalizing the details of the script prior to the planned film production. At work, Lisa continues to try in vain to engage the disinterested and self-absorbed Lance in a conversation under the ruse that she has saved the last available set of towels for him so that he may complete his housekeeping duties – an obvious, desperate act that only serves to further repel him away from her. Meanwhile, Clara has checked in at the hotel where the unrequited couple are employed and Lance, having seen Clara’s script during the routine housekeeping of her room, soon begins to seduce her in the hopes that she can exert an influence over the production company and cast him in his first speaking part in the film. Captivated by Lance’s passing resemblance to her mourned beloved, Clara assents to Lance’s transparent advances and in the process, unwittingly becomes entangled in the fragile, unraveling web of Lance’s one-dimensional liaisons.
Exploring the fragile and dynamic bounds between reality and image, Speaking Parts is an indelibly haunting, visually hypnotic, and exquisitely tactile exposition on obsession, grief, connection, and perception. Using recurring episodes of videotaped and broadcasted images that emphasize the distance and estrangement between the viewer and the subject, Atom Egoyan thematically illustrates the inherent paradox in humanity’s inverted cognitive registration of visual images: a process that becomes increasingly singular, dissociated, and amplified to the point of abstraction and unrecognizability as the observer moves (uncomfortably) closer towards the object of the gaze (a visual composition of film and processed video images that Thierry Knauff similarly experiments with in the hybrid, ethnographic documentary, Wild Blue: Notes for Several Voices). Egoyan further integrates processed and manipulated video images that create texturality and distancing, narrative layers that reflect the isolation of the characters in their obsessive search for (or to recapture) love: Lisa’s familiar, evening routine of renting home videos in order to view the fleeting episode in which Lance can be seen as an extra (a paradoxical moment where his anonymous, unobtrusive presence is singled out in the eyes of the beholder and becomes the lead actor from her emotionally invested perspective); Clara’s direct, matched gaze as she recalls her beloved’s recorded smile before a camera during a working teleconference call that reveals their profound connection even after his death; Lisa’s bizarre encounter with an apparent surveillance video from the hotel on the aftermath of a heartbroken guest’s suicide. In the end, it is only through the destruction of myopic affectation and delusive perception – the systematic dissolution of the image – that Lisa and Lance’s final encounter can be seen, not as tenuous moment of resigned consolation, but a true act of seeing… an illumination.
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