The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

NO one did more for the re­vival of the Aus­tralian film in­dus­try in the 1970s than Peter Weir, the Syd­ney es­tate agent’s son who be­gan his ca­reer as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant with Seven on the Mavis Bram­ston Show. Three of his most no­table films can be seen this week. He was still in his 20s when he made his first fea­ture, The Cars that Ate Paris (Tues­day, 5.40am, Movie Greats), a dire black com­edy set in a re­mote out­back com­mu­nity where the towns­folk make a liv­ing ar­rang­ing car crashes for un­wary mo­torists. The loot­ers pawn what they can re­cover from the wrecks and a town doc­tor per­forms ques­tion­able med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments on the vic­tims. There were early-ca­reer roles for Max Gil­lies, John Meil­lon and Bruce Spence. Oth­ers have re­marked that this macabre fa­ble echoed themes in The Wild One and an­tic­i­pated ideas in Ge­orge Miller’s Mad Max 2: The Road War­rior.

A year later Weir di­rected his first mas­ter­piece, Pic­nic at Hang­ing Rock (Sun­day, 9.10am, Movie Greats), in which he re­vealed the slightly mys­ti­cal sen­si­bil­ity that was to per­vade much of his work. It’s the story of three school­girls and a teacher who dis­ap­pear while ex­plor­ing Hang­ing Rock, in Vic­to­ria, dur­ing a Valen­tine’s Day pic­nic in 1900. The po­lice fail to find them and a search by a young English­man yields odd and in­con­clu­sive re­sults. Based on a novel by Joan Lindsay, the story is en­tirely fic­tional, but many see­ing the film for the first time were con­vinced the events really hap­pened. This lyri­cal ex­is­ten­tial thriller deals with no­tions of time and the na­ture of re­al­ity, with strong hints of re­pressed sex­u­al­ity among the girls. Jacki Weaver, Rachel Roberts and He­len Morse head an ex­cel­lent cast.

One of Weir’s first and most suc­cess­ful Hol­ly­wood films was Dead Po­ets So­ci­ety (Satur­day, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), which won an Os­car for screen­writer Tom Schul­man and a nom­i­na­tion for Weir’s di­rec­tion. Set in 1959 in a posh Ver­mont prep school, where teach­ing meth­ods and mo­ral at­ti­tudes run on strictly con­ven­tional lines, it’s among the best of all in­spi­ra­tional teacher films, thanks to a com­pelling per­for­mance from Robin Wil­liams, whose nat­u­ral in­stinct for schtick and sen­ti­men­tal­ity is re­strained by Weir’s di­rec­tion.

Also on my must-see list: The French Lieu­tenant’s Woman (Wed­nes­day, 8.35pm, Fox Clas­sics), a mas­terly adap­ta­tion by Harold Pin­ter and di­rec­tor Karel Reisz of John Fowles’s novel — a project con­sid­ered un­filmable, and aban­doned, by Fred Zin­ne­mann and Mike Ni­chols, among oth­ers. Mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mances by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, who play il­licit lovers in Vic­to­rian Eng­land as well as ac­tors mak­ing a con­tem­po­rary film of the same story. A daz­zling tour de force.

Robin Wil­liams is com­pelling as a gifted teacher in Dead Po­ets So­ci­ety

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