Op­er­a­tion croc and awe

Rogue ( M) Na­tional re­lease Con­ver­sa­tions with My Gar­dener ( M) Lim­ited na­tional re­lease

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

WE know quite early in that things aren’t look­ing good for the hero. Pete McKell is an Amer­i­can travel writer on a visit to the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, who dis­cov­ers his air­line has mis­laid his bag­gage and with it his lap­top com­puter. Oh no. At least he has his mo­bile phone: but soon that, too, is out of ac­tion. So no mo­bile, no satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion, no iPod, no lap­top, no noth­ing. In to­day’s world of in­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion there could be no more pow­er­ful sug­ges­tion of iso­la­tion and vul­ner­a­bil­ity. This is a hor­ror film for the elec­tronic gen­er­a­tion.

The writer- di­rec­tor, Greg Mclean, made the supremely chill­ing Wolf Creek a cou­ple of years ago, and in Rogue he has found an­other preda­tory killer in the wilds of the ter­ri­tory. This time it’s a croc­o­dile, whom I’ll call Betty. Betty does what all an­gry, fright­ened crocs tend to do when dis­turbed in their na­tive habi­tat. She takes it out on the in­trud­ers, with lit­tle re­gard for the sanc­tity of hu­man life. And I can’t say I al­to­gether blame her. So with­out wish­ing to ap­pear ei­ther cal­lous or sen­ti­men­tal, Rogue lacks for me one of the es­sen­tial el­e­ments of good hor­ror films: the pres­ence of in­no­cent vic­tims pit­ted against the work­ings of a capri­cious fate. It lacks some­thing else: the sense of hu­man malev­o­lence. Mclean works hard to sug­gest that Betty has well- de­vel­oped in­stincts for re­venge and cal­cu­la­tion ( they study our habits), but she’s a croc af­ter all, and I al­ways find an­i­mals less fright­en­ing than peo­ple. It’s why I was never re­ally scared by Jaws , and may never quite shake off the me­mory of John Jar­ratt’s jovial Mick Tay­lor in Wolf Creek , a com­bi­na­tion of Ivan Mi­lat, Bradley John Mur­doch and ev­ery other no­to­ri­ous killer- kid­nap­per who comes to mind. Jar­ratt has a smaller, more sub­dued role in Rogue as a griev­ing wi­d­ower, and Mclean keeps him hid­den be­hind a large mous­tache.

Given that Jar­ratt is now type­cast as a psy­cho­pathic mur­derer and tor­turer of women, one could hardly have cast him as the in­trepid res­cuer and ac­tion hero. This role is filled ( more or less) by Amer­i­can Michael Var­tan, as McKell. In a film aimed at in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences, it was prob­a­bly no bad idea to have an Amer­i­can hero, though top billing goes to our own Radha Mitchell as Kate Ryan, the tour guide who finds her­self stranded with a boat­load of pas­sen­gers on a tiny is­land that Betty con­sid­ers her exclusive ter­ri­tory.

Yes, there are real char­ac­ters here. We get a few sketchy per­son­al­i­ties among the cast of as­sorted tourists, ad­ven­tur­ers and lo­cal hoons. But their main pur­pose is to be picked off at odd in­ter­vals by the cen­tral char­ac­ter, whose ap­petite is, of course, in­sa­tiable. The chal­lenge for the au­di­ence is to de­cide which mem­ber of the cast ( hu­man, rep­til­ian or ca­nine) will be the next to go. Mclean has mod­estly de­scribed Rogue as the Aussie Jaws , but it could just as eas­ily be the Aussie Alien or an Aussie De­liv­er­ance . It’s about peo­ple meet­ing death on strange, for­bid­ding ter­ri­tory, far from the pro­tec­tive in­flu­ence of civil­i­sa­tion.

Rogue isn’t as fright­en­ing as Wolf Creek , or as grue­some ( though it was made with a bud­get roughly 20 times big­ger). Mitchell makes a plucky, fresh- faced Kate, and I think it’s the first time I’ve heard her speak in her na­tive ac­cent af­ter see­ing her in Find­ing Nev­er­land and Melinda and Melinda . Sam Wor­thing­ton is ex­cel­lent in a small part, and may have made a more ro­bust hero than the sub­dued and rather ten­ta­tive Var­tan. The rugged land­scapes have been beau­ti­fully caught ( the cin­e­matog­ra­pher, Will Gib­son, also worked on Wolf Creek ), and there are in­ter­est­ing hints in Mclean’s screen­play of Aussie- Amer­i­can ten­sions and ri­val­ries that might have been de­vel­oped more point­edly. Within its safe and un­am­bi­tious lim­its, Rogue works nicely. I REC­OM­MEND

a mod­est and won­der­fully touch­ing film

* * * from France, di­rected by Jean Becker. With a ti­tle like that you would prob­a­bly guess it was French, a re­minder of Eric Rohmer’s del­i­cate con­ver­sa­tion pieces, or moral tales, and Louis Malle’s My Din­ner with An­dre , an­other great study of friend­ship, which con­sisted al­most en­tirely of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween two French­men in a restau­rant.

The source of Becker’s film is a novel by Henri Cueco, about an artist ( Daniel Au­teuil) who re­turns to his child­hood home in rural France and hires a gar­dener ( Jean- Pierre Dar­roussin) to look af­ter the grounds.

In essence it’s a love story, one with­out ho­mo­erotic com­pli­ca­tions. The men seem at first quite dif­fer­ent. The painter ( I don’t think we ever hear his name) seems to be do­ing rather well for him­self, though his wife is fed up and his do­mes­tic life is a bit of a mess. He’s im­pul­sive and tem­per­a­men­tal and has a tal­ent for of­fend­ing peo­ple. The gar­dener ( also name­less) is a re­tired rail­way worker, a down- to- earth fel­low of sim­ple tastes and un­com­pli­cated good­ness.

The gar­dener is also a home­spun philoso­pher, not the kind who talks in apho­risms or spec­u­lates on the na­ture of re­al­ity, but a man who ap­proaches life with cheer­ful res­ig­na­tion, guided by un­tu­tored wis­dom rather than na­tive intelligence. I think film­mak­ers see gar­den­ing as oth­ers see fish­ing: ev­i­dence of a con­tem­pla­tive in­ner life blessed with deeper in­sights. Peter Sell­ers’s gar­dener in Be­ing There was hailed as a sage, and I read in Clive James’s hefty new book that Lud­wig Wittgen­stein worked as a gar­dener af­ter World War I. In Con­ver­sa­tions with My Gar­dener , the gar­dener turns out to be a fish­er­man as well, which in any other film would make him too good to be true.

The pair be­come friends. The gar­dener dis­cov­ers a wider world than he has known, and the painter be­comes a warmer and kin­der man. All this is con­veyed very sub­tly; there are no dawn­ing rev­e­la­tions or dra­matic spir­i­tual con­ver­sions. And Becker gives us flash­backs and cut­away scenes to en­rich the film’s tex­ture and en­liven the pace, in­clud­ing a telling se­quence at an art show and en­coun­ters with wives and girl­friends. The per­for­mances — beau­ti­fully judged and un­der­stated — con­stantly re­veal new lay­ers of per­son­al­ity. And it is ex­tra­or­di­nary how our im­pres­sions of the men change as we get to know them bet­ter.

With all the gar­dener’s aches and pains, it is not dif­fi­cult to guess the end­ing. But even when we are pre­pared for the worst, the fi­nal scenes are deeply af­fect­ing and strike with un­ex­pected force. It is by no means a flaw­less film — the sim­plest films rarely are — but it is good to see one that cel­e­brates hu­man good­ness and sim­ple de­cency, and some­how avoids be­ing preachy or sanc­ti­mo­nious.

Night on the rep­tiles: Radha Mitchell re­mem­bers the value of never smil­ing at a croc­o­dile in Greg Mclean’s Rogue

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