This Australian film was recently premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival and described as a ‘unique event’. It is an epic, made up of 18 stories based on Tim Winton’s short story collection of the same name. But it is more than turning words into visuals as each one was produced by a different group of filmmakers, and involved collaborators from the worlds of theatre, visual art, photography and dance.
It is described as more akin to a ‘group exhibition’, involving some of the country’s best actors such as Cate Blanchet and Hugo Weaving, and directors, but also gave a chance to actors Mia Waskikowska and David Wenham to direct.
Reviewers have described how characters appear in different stories at different times in their lives, as in the book, but I didn’t get that at all. To me, what unified the stories was the landscape, the open spaces, the borderlands, of ordinary people doing mostly ordinary things, and yet they were totally engrossing. There is also a unity in the weather: we expect Australia to be scorchingly hot, but though everyone is dressed fofr summer, the skys are generally overcast. There is a hint of something awry, out of step, of something lurking in the shadows.
The opening piece with Cate Blanchette is of a couple taking their mother (in law) wanting to visit an estranged son, but on their arrival at an empty house, the women jump into the pool and hilarity ensues, with the son/husband trying to control the trespassing. Not a lot happens, and with all the other stories, we don’t really know who they are, or where they are. It is all about the moment.
What is also interesting is the confidence of the various directors to allow visuals to tell the stories, allowing us time to ponder what we are seeing, and gradually piece together something about who these people are, a far cry from much modern cinema when we are told too much, leaving nothing for our imagination. In one story, of some men going fishing with two boys, there is no dialogue at all.
Some of the stories didn’t work as well – a body is found, but when the man goes seeking it, it is in a different place; why was a door left open to the empty house? how could the man live so far from civilization without a car- everyone has a car. And yet… and yet… despite its immense length, nobody walked out. It is an engrossing piece, a hugely ambitious project that provides us with insights into ordinary life, ordinary people who mostly live nowhere in particular. And as such, it is of a piece with Richard Linklater’s wonderful award winning Boyhood.