Architecture at the Movies: Chloe

I saw Atom Egoyan's new film Chloe this weekend, and though it was something of a stinker (only those deeply committed to watching Amanda Seyfried undress and Liam Neeson glower are advised to drop their $10 on this laughable thriller), it did pay quite close attention to the local architecture; and I don't mean New York's canyons of steel or L.A.'s canyons of Laurel. Not only was the film very self-consciously set in Toronto--Torontonian architecture, hotels, and cafes abound--but the family at the center of the film live in a rather nice modern house in Toronto by architect Drew Mandel. I talked with Mandel on the phone this morning about how his Ravine House was chosen to be in the movie, how Toronto is one of the most-filmed, yet rarely celebrated cinematic cities in North America, and about why, according to the flick, anyhow, modern houses always stand in for some deep, psychological trouble.
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How did the production crew come to choose your house?

The aptly-named Ravine House sits at the edge of a ravine, a nod to the wildness at the gates, a notion reinforced in the scenes where Chloe waits outside the house.

I met the director during shooting. Egoyan is friendly with a colleague of mine, they sat on a board together or something, and he told my friend that he was looking for a modern ravine house to use for the film. He wanted a ravine house to suggest a kind of precipice of civilization, to get this kind of wildness in the domestic sphere. He was presented with three options and the one I designed made the most sense.

Architect Stephen Teeple's Heathdale House, just down the street from Mandel's Ravine House, was used as the exterior of the Stewart family home in Chloe.

This might be overly picky, but based on what I saw of the Ravine House on your website and in the film, I'm not totally convinced that the facade that the we see in the film--when Chloe and Catherine arrive at the house by taxi--is the same as the one you designed. Good eye; it's not. It's funny because the filmmakers were really interested in continuity and getting all the details right, but in this case they chose a house down the street by another local architect Stephen Teeple [The Heathdale House] because the owners of the Ravine House are very private and didn't want the front of their house in the movie. They have a nice art collection and though they were happy the home was in the movie, they wanted an element of it to remain private. Considering how often Toronto stands in for other cities in films, it's rare to see it stand rather proudly as Toronto. Chole makes nice use of local landmarks, and not just bars and restaurants, though you do see those, but also the iconic architecture of Toronto. I can think of one shot, a close-up of Chloe on the street, and Frank Gehry's Art Gallery of Ontario and Will Alsop's Ontario College of Art and Design is hovering over that. Nice stuff, and clearly not a stand-in for New York or Chicago.

Here Egoyan captures Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) through the various glass planes in the house. A sense of hovering doom pervades the film; only bad things happen once you get upstairs.

There's also a nice shot of the addition to the Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind in one shot too. I think this film is really a celebration of Toronto. The director was quite enthusiastic about that element of things, and this is also the first foreign-financed film set explicitly in Toronto. I was talking with a friend and we were trying to name all the non-Canadian films we could think of that were purposely set in Toronto and I think we came up with two: a film from the 70s with Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould whose name I can't recall and then there are a couple iconic Toronto buildings in Cronenberg's The Fly.

It's funny, it was a very personal film for me, clearly because one of my houses was in it so prominently, but also because of how Toronto was portrayed. I saw the film when it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival opening night and people asked me if I liked it, and to be honest, I was kind of distracted. I like and live near and go to a lot of the places in the film. I think it also treats the architecture of the city as a character, and it shows the architectural maturity of the city. At the same time, the film does make use of that hoary old trope that unhappy people live in modernist houses. I remember whispering to my wife in the theater, "You see all that glass in this house, these people are bound to have problems."

This shot of the Ravine House's interior shows its glazed back facade and clear geometry.

Yeah, I can see that, but I wasn't heartbroken or anything. I live in a happy little world with people who want to make nice houses. I do think Atom Egoyan did think it was an interesting house, and he's truly interested in modern architecture. Though once I thought about it for a while I can see how he wanted the glass, and all those shots through the glass, to suggest a kind of isolation, or emotional alienation. You're right though, that troubled people always get put in modern homes in the movies. I've never done a house for a super-villain, though. Actually, I'd bet a super-villian would be a great client!


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