Sunday 7 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (13) - Max Berghouse offers another view of Strangerland (Kim Farrant, Australia, 2015)

This is a typical modern Australian film; the script upon which production has been made would have benefited from two perhaps more rewrites which could have benefited the characterisation of especially the two adult leads (Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes) who are woefully inadequate from what is on-screen now. Secondly, the director appears not in command of the material and this may well be attributable to the fact that she is dealing with stars, rather than actors.

The plot concerns the disappearance of the two children of the couple played by Kidman and Fiennes, who disappear one night. Everyone in the family appears to be unhappy, especially by being stranded in this, if not one horse town, certainly a one pharmacy town (Matthew Parker, as played by Fiennes is a pharmacist). They have come from another equally isolated country township.It is revealed that the daughter has been sexually interfered there by one of her high school teachers. Matthew is under court order not to approach the school teacher in the other township, but does and it appears that the school teacher, if he has done what is alleged, has escaped very lightly indeed.

Catherine Parker (Nicole Kidman) is a stay at home mum with the allegation of least from Matthew, that her prior history involves sleeping around. Well, what's a girl going to do in one horse town?

Both children we learn have been truanting from school, unbeknownst to the parents and the daughter also appears to be sleeping around with some somewhat older men who look particularly unsavoury. I am no sexual prude, but her involvement with these "rednecks" scarcely makes one emotionally committed to her. In fact that is the problem of characterisation throughout, the characters are not sympathetic and their motivations shrouded in mystery.

The plot concerns the disappearance of both children and the ensuing struggle to find them. The notion of the "Bush" or more generally the "Outback" as a place of inherent danger and threat has a very long tradition within Australian literature and painting and of course  Picture At Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) is one and probably the best example. In Strangerland there are regular shots of the vast and seemingly impenetrable landscape, most of which is desert. Scarcely compelling as a place that significant number of people would live! These fairly regular alternations between the vastness of landscape and the intimacy of confrontation between various couples, is ultimately fairly boring.

Matthew returns to his normal job relatively rapidly – because he has responsibilities as the only pharmacist. But this is portrayed as almost a betrayal of his wife and family. Of course I have no experience of the loss of an intimate family member, save by old age and I have no experience of how people would cope. Matthew comes increasingly to seem a less likeable character in a fairly artificial way. Fiennes whom I have not seen on screen in years, is clearly a good-looking man yet appears here with, I think, black dyed hair and a haircut that makes him look like a 1930 s gigolo. Ultimately he is the one who finds his son Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) referred to in some reviews as a teenager like his sister, but I would have thought more like about 10 years of age. This leads to the implication that if the father could discover the son, that something is going wrong. I think there were some implication of sexual impropriety of the father, but by that stage I was so confused and disinterested, that I did not bother.

Meanwhile....... meanwhile, Catherine is slipping into true over the top hysteria. My guess is that Ms Kidman by essentially going over the top, suppresses all the other actors. She seems to constantly outshine Joseph Fiennes, who most of the time appears to be simply going through the motions. By this time, the discovery of his son, I was doing the same.

From the point of the discovery of the son and his recovery from hospitalisation, the plot just disintegrates. There is neither resolution by discovery of Lily nor any understanding of why she has gone. There is an implication that she left home with her brother but abandoned him. Scarcely an endearing trait with which we can identify. The best that we can expect is that she left with a man older than herself in a car. End of story.

I did not like nor enjoy this film. There are the bare bones within of a good film and I think my criticisms stem around apparent laziness in not really wanting to make a good film rather than simple ineptitude.

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