Wednesday, 6 January 2010

I Like The Lines Around My Eyes. I Don't Know If He Does, But I Do.

Ray Lawrence took his sweet-arse time coming up with his second feature after the critical triumph of Bliss in 1985, but when he finally got around to making another film, goddamn but it was good.

Lantana launched itself onto the scene in 2001 and promptly blew the country away. It was a freaking stellar year for Australian film (we had Moulin Rouge! and The Bank doing excellent box office business as well), but it was Lantana that took out all of the awards at the same time as managing to make AUD$10mil at the local box office. That's a big deal in Australia. Especially when you consider that this film is a cut-and-dry adult drama. There is NOTHING in here that would appeal to your typical kid, who tend to at least be partly responsible for a decent box office.

The film, written by acclaimed playwright Andrew Bovell (who was also responsible for The Book Of Revelation and Blessed in filmworld, but don't hate him for that - it's all worth it for Lantana! I promise!), moves through the same sort of narrative structure as Magnolia or Crash - it's a whole lot of independent stories that are all tangled together, like... well... lantana, really. (It's an hideous noxious weed that is a whole lot of vines, effectively.)

Detective Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia) is a cop (duh), married to Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) with two children, but who is just beginning an affair as the film starts with someone from their dancing class, Jane (Rachael Blake.) Meanwhile, Dr Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), a psychiatrist, and her husband John Knox (Geoffrey Rush) have recently lost their eleven year old daughter to a murderer, prompting Valerie (who is incidentally treating Sonja) to write a book about it. Valerie goes missing one night, and Jane notices her neighbour Nik (Vince Colosimo) throwing something into the lantana growing on the vacant lot opposite her house, and opens a rift between herself and Nik's wife Paula (Daniela Farinacci), who had previously been quite friendly.

This, I guess, is the cruz of the story, but there are further subplots going on involving Leon's partner Det. Claudia Wiss (Leah Purcell), another of Valerie's patients Patrick (Peter Phelps) and Sonja's estranged husband Pete (Glen Robbins.) Still paying attention? That is one HELL of a cast. Outside of LaPaglia, Rush and Hershey it probably doesn't mean a huge amount to non-Australians, but they are basically an enormous pile of who were some of the most recognisable faces on Australian big and small screens at the time. And as such, they won an enormous pile of awards, both individually and as an ensemble, becoming the first film, I believe, to win all four acting awards at the Australian Film Institute Awards (something matched by Somersault a few years later, but much less deservedly.)

The script is unashamedly adult. It does not pander to you, you do have to pay attention to get everything that's going on all of the time. It does owe an obvious debt to Magnolia before it, but it is, I would argue, better handled by Lawrence. Sydney is not overly fetishized - instead of the obvious harbour shots, the film sticks with an altogether urban environment or unadorned shots of more remote harbours and inlets, allowing the film to maintain a distinct Australian film whilst giving it the ability to, really, have been set anywhere. The score reminds me a lot of that by Angelo Badalamenti for Mulholland Drive, which is interesting considering some of the driving shots also remind me of that film. It can't be referential, however, as Lantana's first public outing at the Sydney Film Festival was less than a month after Mulholland Drive's premiere at Cannes.

It's a superb film in many, many ways, definitely one to hunt down if you haven't been able to see it already. There are a few moments where it does feel a little stagey (a couple of moments with Leah Purcell and, interestingly, Geoffrey Rush in particular), but it works a lot better than Lawrence's next outing a few years later, Jindabyne. And will someone please tell me why Daniela Farinacci isn't a monumental star? I've never seen her in anything (that I can remember) where she didn't absolutely blow me away with her intensity and talent. Hand her three Oscars. Immediately.

5 stars.

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