The Underside of Down Under By Steve Ayorinde

in 17th Stockholm Film Festival

by Steve Ayorinde

Drugs raised the adrenalin while sex brought it down. Both were not in short supply at the 16 th edition of the Stockholm International Film Festival, especially in the films in competition.

However, it took a film from Down Under to get Stockholm to, first ponder, and then nod in sober acknowledgement of a true work of cinematic art, in which the message and the medium found coherent synergy.

Jindabyne, which clinched FIPRESCI’s best film award and earned Beatrix Christian the best Screenplay award from the International Jury was the Australian revelation at the festival. It is a strong story conveyed with cinematic verve, which on the one hand reinforces the London-born director, Ray Lawrence, as a master of his art, and on the other hand uses a story set in a small town to capture Australian’s struggle with race relations.

Engrossing and thoughtful is this story that owes its narrative in part to Paul Kelly’s song, “Everything is turning to white”, and to Raymond Carver’s short story, So much water close to home, in which some male friends discover a young woman’s corpse during a fishing trip but delay in reporting it till the end of their picnic.

In Jindabyne, the corpse is that of a 19-year-old black aboriginal and the fishermen, of course, are all white. Unlike in Crash, where race relations are treated with an apparent intent to seek reconciliation and celebration, Jindabyne makes no pretence about its inconclusive ending and resolution that neither seeks to expose nor punish the murderer.

It is no murder mystery. Rather, what the film sets out to do, and does so well, is use the apparently motiveless murder to capture its impact on the broader fabric of the community. The little Australian town is hauntingly depicted as a microcosm where moral dilemmas resonate as a universal subject. Intensely written and acted, the film shows the understanding (or the lack of it) of inherent cultures of a community, and how the acrimony that arises from racial misunderstanding poses monumental challenges to marriages and every fabric in a community jolted not by the horrific act of murder but by a single act of negligence by a group of adults.

This adult drama per excellence; either through the blunt, matter-of-fact outbursts by elderly characters or the subdued attempts at metaphors by the child characters; or even the suggestive topicality of Kelly’s original soundtrack, Jindabyne is a film that gets one to ponder. And it is in the characterization and thrust of the original Carver short story as well as in the impressive cast of fine actors that the beauty of the drama comes to life in its long narrative. Every frame of the film is driven to a high point – in depicting the guilt and the blame, the rippling effect of a familial and socio-political interplay.

The spectator has David Williamson to thank for the transformation of the visuals from a somewhat National Geographic-like imagery of the opening scenes to a stunning visual exploration of the mountains of Australia. The fascination with water and landscape may be long winded, but it shows technical excellence.

There are a few frustrating passages in the seemingly over-padded reactions of the outraged wife, Claire (Laura Linney) in attempting to right the wrongs “committed” by her husband, and also in the vague attempt at the mystical, especially in the closing scenes, but Jindabyne will not fail to grip the viewer.