Weir’s sur­vival epic

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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

NEW films from Peter Weir are rare these days. Mas­ter and Com­man­der: The Far Side of the World came out in 2003 and it’s 14 years since The Truman Show, that bril­liant satire on moder­nity, the me­dia and just about ev­ery­thing else. The Way Back (Fri­day, 8.30pm, Movie One) is one of Weir’s most am­bi­tious and mov­ing films, a love story, a sur­vival drama and, in its way, an epic trib­ute to the mil­lions who died in Soviet labour camps dur­ing the Stal­in­ist ter­ror.

The screen­play, which Weir wrote with Keith Clarke, tells the story — es­sen­tially fic­tion — of seven pris­on­ers who es­cape from a Siberian gu­lag at the be­gin­ning of World War II and set out on a 6400km jour­ney to In­dia. The cen­tral fig­ure, Janusz (Jim Sturgess), has been con­victed as an en­emy of the peo­ple and sen­tenced to 20 years’ hard labour. Un­der tor­ture, his wife has tes­ti­fied against him. Janusz is tor­mented not so much by his wife’s be­trayal as by the guilt he knows she is suf­fer­ing. It is his de­ter­mi­na­tion to ab­solve her from that guilt and re­new his love for her that drives his quest for free­dom.

Among Weir’s films I have seen lit­tle to com­pare with the sheer vis­ual power of The Way Back. In its ma­jes­tic land­scapes and the in­ten­sity of its sto­ry­telling it ranks with the best of David Lean. And in­deed there are many re­minders of Doc­tor Zhivago (Fri­day, 1pm, TCM); an­other view of the Bol­she­vik rev­o­lu­tion and its dread­ful af­ter­math. Both films are love sto­ries, one seen through the ro­man­tic yearn­ings of Omar Sharif, the other through Janusz’s search for re­union with his wife. Weir has made a deeply har­row­ing and en­thralling film, brave and un­spar­ing.

Of Oliver Stone’s three films about US pres­i­dents — JFK, Nixon and W, Nixon (Sun­day, 8.30pm, Movie Greats) was the least suc­cess­ful. I praised it when it came out in 1995, mainly be­cause I was fas­ci­nated by its sub­ject and liked just about any­thing with An­thony Hop­kins.

On a sec­ond viewing, how­ever, it looked shoddy and mere­tri­cious. We are meant to see Nixon as a flawed but quintessen­tially Amer­i­can hero, whose crim­i­nal foibles were a dis­turb­ing re­flec­tion of the dark side of the US as a whole. But to por­tray Nixon as a flawed hero it was first nec­es­sary to por­tray

but surely he has done noth­ing stranger than Hereafter (Sun­day, 8.30pm, Movie One). His three main char­ac­ters — an Amer­i­can fac­tory worker (Matt Da­mon), a French jour­nal­ist (Ce­cile De France) and a London school­boy played by two young ac­tors (Frankie and Ge­orge Mclaren) — each un­der­goes a be­reave­ment or near-death ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore their lives in­ter­sect as they search for the truth about the pos­si­bil­ity of life be­yond death. View­ers will draw their own con­clu­sions.

More in­ter­est­ing for me is Gains­bourg (Satur­day, 7.25pm, World Movies), a French film di­rected by Joann Sfar, based on the life and amorous ex­ploits of Serge Gains­bourg, the artist and singer who did much to shape French pop­u­lar cul­ture in the 1960s. We first meet Serge as a boy in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Paris in 1941, and the film is fas­ci­nat­ing in con­vey­ing the la­tent anti-semitism of French bour­geois so­ci­ety in the war years.

Played as an adult by Eric El­mosnino, Serge is a gaunt, hag­gard, mal­adroit fig­ure with a string of dis­carded wives and mis­tresses. Brid­get Bar­dot, Juli­ette Greco and Bri­tish ac­tress Jane Birkin were among real or at­tempted con­quests. Lucy Gor­don plays Birkin with cap­ti­vat­ing en­ergy. One of their chil­dren, Char­lotte Gains­bourg, ap­peared in the re­cent Aus­tralian film The Tree. It would be in­ter­est­ing to know what she thinks of El­mosnino’s por­trayal of her fa­ther.

Fri­day, 1pm, TCM him as a hero, which proved too much even for Stone.

Clint East­wood has di­rected some great re­cent films ( Mys­tic River, Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby),

Fri­day, 8.30pm, Movie One

Sun­day, 8.30pm, Movie One

Satur­day, 7.25pm, World Movies

Jim Sturgess, sec­ond from left, in The Way Back

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