Director Haggis polarizes again with 'puzzle' of a film, 'Third Person'

Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:38pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - Controversial Canadian director Paul Haggis is back in Toronto with his latest feature, which may end up being even more divisive than "Crash," his 2004 story of racism, love and interlinking lives that won the Oscar for best picture.

In "Third Person," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, Haggis again creates a multi-character drama, this time exploring the themes of love, trust and guilt.

"This is an incredibly personal story, the way 'Crash' was an incredibly personal story," Haggis told reporters after the film's premiere. "I posed several questions to myself, as I was going along, and they were all about being in love with someone who is impossible."

While audiences in Toronto responded well to the structurally complex film, which tells three distinct stories spanning across Rome, Paris and New York, the critics have been harshly divided.

Variety called the picture Haggis' "most robust to date," while the Guardian reviled it as "a work of staggering trash."

The film marks his first major press push since the director's high-profile split with the Church of Scientology in 2009, a rare defection among the church's celebrity circle that includes actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Haggis, 60, has been a polarizing figure since "Crash," an ensemble drama about racial and social tensions in Los Angeles, which upset critically acclaimed gay cowboy drama "Brokeback Mountain" to win the best picture Academy Award.

The film received mainly positive reviews and was a box-office success, but was also criticized for being overly sentimental and simplistic in its treatment of racial inequalities in America.   Continued...

Director Paul Haggis speaks during the "Third Person" news conference at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch