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Toronto as a sexy, self-involved femme fatale

Amanda Seyfried, the titular character in Atom Egoyan's Chloe, walks down College Street in Toronto, where the film is set.

E1 Entertainment

Chloe

  • Directed by Atom Egoyan

Possibly the hardest working city in show business, Toronto has played dozens of roles onscreen over the years – Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and the North Pole. Now thanks to Atom Egoyan's new film, Chloe, Toronto gets its chance for a breakthrough performance by playing itself, posh, edgy and intimidating.

Not that it doesn't have some steamy competition. Its co-stars are Liam Neeson as David, a handsome professor with a wandering eye; Julianne Moore as his jealous gynecologist wife, Catherine; and Amanda Seyfried as Chloe, a young call girl whom Catherine hires to test her husband's fidelity.

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The story, adapted from the French film Nathalie has elements of a fable: A test of love, followed by predictable negative consequences.

Yet this fairy land is where Toronto's fast set play, around Bloor and Avenue Road, south to College Street and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Chloe offers a selective view of the city. You don't see the suburbs, strip malls or ethnic neighbourhoods. Instead, we get a partial view, like an erotic photograph that focuses on the subject's nape or earlobes and leaves the rest out. This is a place of minimalist glass-walled houses, like the Drew Mandel-designed Ravine House that serves as the family home.

Glass and mirrors are everywhere; they reflect and aggravate the self-consciousness and fragility of the characters. There's the precariousness of the pencil-like stilts on Will Alsop's Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Cinematographer Paul Sarossy finds a flattering peekaboo angle on Daniel Libeskind's Royal Ontario Museum addition, which makes it look like some strange biomechanical alien ready to pounce.

In this not-so-funhouse mirror, what can we discern about the character of the city? Conventionally, cities are thought of as female. L.A. Is My Lady, sang Frank Sinatra, and Paris is always the Queen of Cities.

Toronto is the femme fatale. Stiletto heels, hair clips, lingerie and mirrors mark a space that's distinctly feminine (though, given Toronto's ingenious film wardrobing, it may be a dude in drag). Specifically, the city's character is reflected in both women.

Julianne Moore's fragile character, defined by her glass house, is accomplished, but aggrieved. It's not too much of a stretch to fit this description of Toronto, which, at 175, isn't quite in its first bloom, but far from old enough to deserve veneration. Our city has endured a long history of paternalistic back-handed compliments, including Brendan Behan's observation that Toronto would be a fine city when it got finished, or travel writer Jan Morris's shot that it was a city that represents the second best of everything.

Chloe, the character who gives the film its title, reflects another side of our city – that we're good at pretending to be what we're not. Chloe sees herself as a canny pro that can disappear into her clients' fantasies.

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Toronto has become a world-class city at faking it. As Mr. Egoyan has noted in interviews, the city has a distinct iconography that audiences in other cities feel they recognize but can't quite identify, because they've seen it in the movies: "Toronto is like Chloe, paid to be something else," Mr. Egoyan says.

There's another quality the city has in common with the two women characters is a desperation to be recognized, noticed and paid attention. Perhaps the movie will finally help satisfy that need. We've always known that Toronto is a hell of a character actor. Now that the city has had its Hollywood close-up, perhaps Toronto can take the leap from actor to star and trust people to like the city for herself.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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