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Although Lewis and director Barzman eventually had a falling out, Lewis is quick to give Barzman credit for the idea that would make Emotional Arithmetic an affordable and coherent movie. Barzman recalls that he read an earlier version of the script on a flight to Prague and felt he saw the key to the story. "It had to take place in one afternoon with flashbacks, and the afternoon dinner table would provide a kind of stage," he says.There were more pressures on the screenwriter. Max von Sydow wasn't happy with an early draft in which his character dies (he didn't die in Cohen's book). Sarandon felt that her relationship with her on-screen husband was too unfriendly, and she wanted it softened. The idea struck a chord with Barzman and the script was adjusted accordingly.
In the end, Barzman says that while the script offers the characters a reprieve, "nothing is solved" and that's what he believes makes the film work: "They have this subterranean museum of horrors they are living with, and we can't pretend they can be reconciled with that."
As for the Montreal-based Lewis, he says he's looking forward to the gala Toronto screening on Saturday night, although he also feels some apprehension.
"Afterward," he adds, "I think I want to take a walk over to Matt Cohen Park and sit down on a bench and have a long conversation with my old friend."
A selective history of Canadian literature onscreen
1964: The Luck of Ginger Coffey. Based on Brian Moore's novel, the movie starred Robert Shaw as an irrepressible Irish immigrant to Montreal.
1968: Rachel, Rachel. There were four Oscar nominations for this adaptation of Margaret Laurence's A Jest of God, about a lonely woman who has a brief fling. Paul Newman directed his wife, Joanne Woodward, in the lead role.
1973: Kamouraska. Claude Jutra directed Geneviève Bujold in this lush adaptation of Anne Hébert's novel of repression, murder and madness in early 19th-century Quebec. At the time, this French co-production was the most expensive Canadian movie ever made.
1974: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. A smart, memorable adaptation of Mordecai Richler's novel, directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Richard Dreyfuss in the performance of his career.
1986: Dancing in the Dark. Based on Joan Barfoot's novel about a woman driven to murder, the film won three Genies, including best actress for Martha Henry.
1990: The Handmaid's Tale. Volker Schlondorff directed this respectable, if emotionally flat, adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel of future female enslavement, starring Natasha Richardson, which was certainly better than the tepid 1981 version of Atwood's novel Surfacing.
1991: Black Robe. Bruce Beresford's highly regarded historical drama followed Brian Moore's adaptation of his own novel. The story, which depicts a 17th-century Jesuit priest (Lothaire Bluteau) travelling in the harsh Quebec winter with Algonquin guides, is a portrait of Europeans encountering the wilderness and a culture that is beyond their conceptual experience.
1996: Kissed. Lynn Stopkewich's adaptation of Barbara Gowdy's novel about a young woman embalmer who makes love to her corpses was, ultimately, rather tender. Released the same year as David Cronenberg's auto-erotic Crash, it helped earn Canadians an international reputation for delicately realized kink.
1996: The English Patient. Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's Second World War novel, starring Ralph Fiennes as a mysterious burn patient being tended by a French-Canadian nurse during the Second World War, won nine Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, and entered into popular culture as an allegory of grand passion.
2003: The Republic of Love. Deepa Mehta (Water) directed this adaptation of a Carol Shields novel about a lonely radio host (Bruce Greenwood) and a curator (Emilia Fox) who find each other. Shields's novel was about the mysteriousness of romance, though too often the movie settles for the cuteness of romance.
2007: Away from Her. Sarah Polley's adaptation of an Alice Munro short story, The Bear Came Over the Mountain, expands the narrative in a wry story of old age, love and betrayal, with rich performances from Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie. Away from Her is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.