"Jindabyne": Racism or the Feeling of Guilt By Joan Millaret Valls

in 51st Valladolid International Film Festival

by Joan Millaret

Jindabyne directed by Australian director Ray Lawrence is based on a Raymond Carver’s short story, once of the tales Robert Altman used for Short Cuts (1993). This time the director of Lantana (2001) introduces a new ingredient: It’s racism that gives way to a story about guilt.

A group of men from the Australian town Jindabyne go to an annual fishing weekend trip leaving their wives behind. They explore a hidden spot and enjoy the trip they planned a log time ago. However, one of them discovers the body of a local Aborigine who man floating in the river. After securing the body to a tree, they continue with their trip as if nothing had happened. Three days later on their way back home they report their discovery to the police. The news spread over the town and the three men are hated by almost all citizens because they are suspected to be guilty in one way or another.

Throughout the splendid first part of the film, the Australian director creates an enigmatic and uneasy climate by showing the imposing landscapes and using the atmospheric music by Paul Nelly. An ancestral and primitive force overruns the screen. This feeling of threat rises because the near past is still alive in the memory of the small town. When the valley was flooded to create a dam the old inhabitants were forced to move, meanwhile children dangerously play by the lake telling stories about zombies that live in its depth.

There is a meaningless moment and yet full of great mysterious and worrying strength, when the fishermen hike into the forest and one of them remains next to the electric tower. It turns into a special symbol since its electric power lines probably originate in the dam and go through the inhospitable spot like a premonitory warning. If the act of fishing happily next to a corpse is simply horrible and unacceptable, the act of tethering the body to a tree like a dog preventing it from flowing can be chilling.

This incident changes the lives of the three men and their families and the couples’ relationship, mainly the marriage of an Irish man and his wife. The husband does immediately explain the discovery to his wife, which opens a gap between the couple and rekindles past experiences such as a previous separation. The woman despises her husband and, at the same time, she wants to apologize to the victim’s family for their husband’s condemnable behavior. Meeting the Aboriginal community’s rejection she keeps on struggling to come to terms with guilt and remorse.

In the second part, the mysterious and fantastic force has gone, the film turns into a typical family drama mixed with the racism as a background, which is constantly underlying the Australian society. From that turning point the film is about a heroine who will try by all means an impossible coming closer to the Aborigines to redeem the sins of a white irresponsible society. She becomes imbued with being politically correct though she never truly faces the problem of racial exclusion and segregation of the Aborigines. A predictable and neat ending brings about a fake harmony between both communities during the funeral.

Nevertheless the ambiguity remains as the murder is still unsolved and the guilty man — an old white man who could perfectly symbolize the ancient colonizers of the Australian continent — passes by his neighbors without causing suspicion. He even looms over the heroine with his deadly truck reinforcing somehow that restless atmosphere of the first part. The last shot shows the murderer hidden behind the rocks watching his future prey and smashing a wasp on his nape. So, are we simply facing a psycho killer of black women, who relieves white society of any guilt, thus individualizing evil and racism?