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  • TBC
  • Crime, Drama
  • 2006
  • 123 mins

Jindabyne

Jindabyne

Synopsis

A small town's fragile sense of community goes fishing, in Ray Lawrence's third feature, adapted from a Raymond Carver short story and starring Gabriel Byrne

About

Ray Lawrence may hardly be a household name, but mention him to critics or filmmakers, and the response will most likely be one of awed reverence. For, despite having directed only three features in something over 20 years, the Australian ad-man has earned himself an international reputation as the directors' director.

His debut Bliss (1985), adapted with Peter Carey from Carey's own novel (and subsequently disavowed by the author), was an astonishing fever dream of modern heavens and hells, full of shocking and surreal imagery. Lantana (2001) was a bleak and sinuous ensemble piece, cementing the director's renown with its unobtrusively fluid style of direction. And now in 2007 comes Jindabyne, another ensemble affair in which Lawrence once again explores the aching need in our fragmented lives for the comforts of spirituality and ritual.

Stewart (Byrne) and his friends Carl (Howard) and Rocco (Yiakmis) set off to a remote river on a fishing trip that has become an annual rite of masculinity ("no women allowed"), and they bring along young Billy 'The Kid' (Stone) for his first time - but before the weekend can even begin, Stewart chances upon the body of a murdered Aboriginal woman floating in the water. Instead of heading back at once for help, the four decide to secure the corpse and continue fishing for a day.

It is a decision that will set them at odds with their partners and their community, and raise all manner of half-buried ghosts from the past - until Stewart's troubled wife Claire (Linney) risks her relationship with family and friends as she tries to forge a connection with the dead woman.

Beatrix Christian's screenplay is adapted from the 1977 short story 'So Much Water So Close to Home' by America's king of dirty realism, Raymond Carver. Robert Altman's on-screen version of the same story, forming part of his sprawling Carver tribute Short Cuts (1993), memorably included a full-frontal shot of Huey Lewis urinating into the river just before the discovery of the corpse.

Lawrence's film may be more restrained and low-key than Altman's, but in its own way it's just as confrontational, as a single murky incident opens the floodgates to the pent-up tensions (sexual, domestic, racial and spiritual) of an entire community and of the world beyond.

Jindabyne, the inland town in Southern New South Wales to which Christian has transplanted her all-American source material, is built around a lake in which a previous incarnation of the town lies submerged, church and all - and so it provides an apt setting for a drama about sublimated dreams and buried fears. One young character (Lazzaro) believes that the underwater town's denizens still move about down there like "zombies" - but she may as well be describing the living folk of Jindabyne, all sleepwalking through their haunted lives without ever addressing the problems just below the surface.

For most of its running time, Jindabyne comes as close as can be to a perfect drama. The performances are without exception unselfish and entirely believable, the Australian landscapes, though stunning, are also made integral to the plotting, and even the different characters' backstories are allowed to emerge naturally, and at their own pace, from the dialogue. Christian's decision to develop the character of Claire and to shift half of the story to her perspective gives the narrative a divisive dynamic that matches its themes well. Quite simply, Lawrence and his team make the whole complicated business of filmmaking look effortless and unfussed.

The only disappointment comes in the film's denouement, in which Lawrence, granted unprecedented access to shoot an Aboriginal smoking ceremony, uses it to bring together all the oppositions that the rest of the film has carefully teased apart.

Here we see men and women, whites and indigenous, sacred and secular, ancient and modern, the living and the dead, all momentarily reconciled in something that approximates the archetypal happy ending. It is no doubt all very well-meaning, but its contrived nature strikes a false note in a film that otherwise never stops ringing true. Still, at least a brief coda before the final credits roll suggests that there may be further ripples yet to trouble Jindabyne's becalmed surface.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Deborra-Lee Furness, Simon Stone, Laura Linney, Betty Lucas, Stelios Yiakmis, Gabriel Byrne, Leah Purcell, Alice Garner, John Howard, Chris Haywood
  • Director: Ray Lawrence
  • Screen Writer: Beatrix Christian
  • Writer (Story): Raymond Carver
  • Producer: Catherine Jarman
  • Photographer: David Williamson
  • Composer: Dan Luscombe, Paul Kelly

In a nutshell

Still waters run deep in this exquisite piece of dramatic naturalism from Australia's least known great director.

by Anton Bitel

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