An affair to remember
Direction: Richard J Lewis
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike
One of the rare instances of a Canadian movie making it to our multiplexes, Barney's Version is funny, romantic and surprisingly heartfelt.
Adapted from the last novel by the late Jewish-Canadian author Mordecai Richler (to whom the film is dedicated), the screenplay charts the life and loves of a much-married Montreal television producer (Giamatti) over the course of four decades.
Right from the outset, there's something endearing about the oafish executive who thinks nothing of making a late-night crank-call to his third ex-wife.
There are flashbacks to 1974 Rome where he meets his first wife and then back to Montreal and his subsequent marriage to a rich Jewish shrew (Minnie Driver, delightfully wacky). It's at the wedding ceremony that the by-now drunk groom falls truly, madly, deeply in love with a beautiful guest (Pike).
The couple's whirlwind romance and several years of married life are observed with emotional incisiveness and a compassion that's been sorely missing from recent Hollywood cinema. The eventual fallout of a transgression on his part is portrayed with similar candour and credibility.
The narrative also wends through a handful of subplots like Barney's long-standing friendship with an aspiring drug-prone writer (Scott Speedman). However, scenes of the pal's mysterious disappearance and the accusation of murder are slapdash.
Paul Giamatti, who was so memorable in An American Splendour and Sideways, comes up with yet another astonishingly lifelike performance. The radiant Rosamund Pike serves as an ideal counterpoint. The rest of the ensemble cast including Dustin Hoffman as Barney's ex-cop father, is bang on target.
The soundtrack features snatches of songs like Dance Me to the End of Love by the legendary Leonard Cohen. Incidentally, four celebrated contemporary Canadian filmmaker - Atom Egoyan, Ted Kotcheff, David Cronenberg and Denys Arcand - appear in blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos.
On the evidence of Barney's Version, it seems that the future of Canadian cinema is in fairly safe hands.