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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

nanny for the chil­dren. Mary Pop­pins is a new role for Col­lette. She has never looked more coarse, more vul­gar or more sin­is­ter. She has a dog called Rip­per and car­ries a hunt­ing knife in her boot. And Ho­gan does ev­ery­thing to make her look as creepy as pos­si­ble, shoot­ing from odd an­gles with much fa­cial shadow.

Of course she’s as nutty as the rest. Shaz has a the­ory — it’s a nice touch — that mod­ern Aus­tralia be­gan not as a pe­nal colony but as a vast loony bin with un­lim­ited space to which the British dis­patched their nut­ters and cra­zies (and I’ll be for­given, I hope, if I use lan­guage in keep­ing with the spirit of the film).

Shaz nur­tures a the­ory that our shared looniness is be­ing cov­ered up by the au­thor­i­ties, who la­bel peo­ple mad as a way of con­trol­ling them. She car­ries around a bulky man­ual of men­tal dis­or­ders, which she reg­u­larly con­sults to ver­ify some point or other. The idea that in a mad world ev­ery­one looks nor­mal, and by def­i­ni­tion is nor­mal, is an oddly re­as­sur­ing one. (I won­dered if Shaz, or Ho­gan, had thought of the gravedig­ger’s words in Ham­let — that Ham­let’s mad­ness would not be no­ticed in Eng­land be­cause ‘‘ there the men are as mad as he’’.)

Fol­low­ing its own bizarre logic, the film finds room for a dark sub­plot in­volv­ing Shaz and her past as­so­ci­a­tion with a char­ac­ter called Trevor Blundell (played by Amer­i­can ac­tor Liev Schreiber with a con­vinc­ing ac­cent). Trevor runs a lo­cal shark show, the main tourist at­trac­tion at Dol­phin Heads. The prime ex­hibit is the shark that ate Harold Holt, al­low­ing some scary close-ups of gap­ing jaws.

There are mo­ments when Men­tal seems more like a hor­ror film than a com­edy — even a com­edy as black as this one, peo­pled with freaky ex­tras and a script in which men­stru­a­tion jokes sit com­fort­ably with scenes of do­mes­tic may­hem and ex­tracts from The Sound of Mu­sic. LaPaglia’s ren­di­tion of Edel­weiss may be worth the price of ad­mis­sion.

Some­how, mirac­u­lously, Ho­gan keeps the whole fren­zied pack­age un­der con­trol and makes sense of its gross­est ex­ag­ger­a­tions. There are oddly poignant mo­ments when Dad tries to patch things up with his ne­glected fam­ily, and I give full credit to new­comer Lily Sul­li­van for her lovely turn as Co­ral, the el­dest of the Moochmore girls.

Of course some bits work bet­ter than oth­ers. There’s some funny busi­ness when Deb­o­rah Mail­man’s char­ac­ter (who is hav­ing an af­fair with Nancy’s les­bian daugh­ter) gives us a scathing de­con­struc­tion of the black­fella nov­elty song My Boomerang Won’t Come Back (re­mem­ber that one?). And lis­ten care­fully for a ref­er­ence to an­other 1960s hit — when Shaz takes the girls on a moun­taineer­ing ex­cur­sion and one of them gives a help­ing hand to her obese (and schizophrenic) si­b­ling: ‘‘ She ain’t heavy, she’s my sis­ter.’’

Ho­gan has plenty of ir­rev­er­ent fun with Men­tal and brings it off. Au­di­ences are likely to watch in a state of ap­palled fas­ci­na­tion. Which is not to say (un­for­tu­nately) that they’ll en­joy them­selves. DAN­GER­OUS Li­aisons is a Chi­nese ver­sion of Pierre Choder­los de La­c­los’s clas­sic tale of sex­ual ma­nip­u­la­tion, set in Shang­hai in the 1930s and di­rected by Korean Hur Jin-ho. La­c­los’s 1782 novel was filmed (most no­tably) by British di­rec­tor Stephen Frears — it was his first Amer­i­can film — and starred Glenn Close as the de­bauched Mar­quise de Mer­teuil, who de­lighted in plot­ting schemes of cruel se­duc­tion and vengeance.

Jin-ho and his screen­writer Yan Gel­ing, in mov­ing the story to Shang­hai, have bril­liantly re-cre­ated what I like to think of as the look and mood of the ‘‘ Paris of the East’’, a set­ting fa­mously ex­ploited by Steven Spiel­berg in Em­pire of the Sun. The sense of a doomed community of rich and idle lib­ertines, over­shad­owed by the threat of war with Ja­pan, makes an ideal back­ground for this some­what un­real story of il­licit pas­sion and in­trigue.

You may re­mem­ber that in Frears’s film Close makes a wa­ger with the Vi­comte de Val­mont (John Malkovich): if he can de­flower Uma Thur­man, the 16-year-old fu­ture wife of one of Mer­teuil’s for­mer lovers, she will re­ward Val­mont with her favours. One prob­lem with Frears’s film was that Close, lack­ing any kind of sex ap­peal (for me, at least, in those days), was never a con­vinc­ing prize.

There is no such prob­lem in Jin-ho’s ver­sion. Each of the many young women in the cast looks glam­orous enough to be one of the flight at­ten­dants seen in tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials for Sin­ga­pore Air­lines, and the he­do­nis­tic play­boy Xie Yi­fan (Jang Dong-gun) must be ev­ery­one’s idea of the clas­sic mati­nee idol: sleek, dark, tiny mous­tache.

Com­pli­ca­tions arise when Xie falls in love with Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi), one of the tar­gets of his lust, who looks even more beau­ti­ful than Michelle Pfeif­fer. All is sump­tu­ous, erotic, beau­ti­fully pho­tographed and a con­stant feast for the eyes. If only we could take it se­ri­ously.

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