Film Evan Wil­liams re­views Tim Win­ton’s The Turn­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Evan Wil­liams

IHAD in­tended to be­gin this re­view by say­ing The Turn­ing is the long­est and most te­dious film I have seen in years, but that would have been a lit­tle un­fair. Cer­tainly it’s long — three hours plus an in­ter­val — and many peo­ple will find it aw­fully bor­ing, not to say baf­fling, but only if we judge it ac­cord­ing to the stan­dard movie con­ven­tions of plot and sto­ry­telling. The ads de­scribe it as a ‘‘ unique cin­ema event’’. Tim Win­ton, whose writ­ings form the ba­sis of the screen­play, calls it a ‘‘ strange and won­der­ful cre­ation’’. I’d call it a grand artis­tic ex­per­i­ment that doesn’t quite work. On re­flec­tion, I don’t think it works at all, but that, too, may be a lit­tle un­fair.

It’s based on Win­ton’s 2004 book The Turn­ing, a col­lec­tion of 17 short sto­ries ten­u­ously linked by re­cur­ring themes and char­ac­ters. The idea of mak­ing a film of them came from Robert Con­nolly, the Aus­tralian writer-di­rec­tor best known for films such as Three Dollars and The Bank. Con­nolly has de­scribed the book as a ‘‘ cryp­tic jig­saw puz­zle’’ —a fair de­scrip­tion of the film it­self, which con­sists of 17 short films, each with its own di­rec­tor, writer and cast. But even to call them short films is some­thing of a stretch. I’d call them frag­ments: fleet­ing, im­pres­sion­is­tic, some with dia­logue, oth­ers more or less word­less. As a body of work they are hardly a co­her­ent whole.

What The Turn­ing lacks is a di­rec­tor’s guid­ing hand to bring to the pro­ject some clar­ity of pur­pose and a sem­blance of unity. It’s a role Con­nolly might have taken.

I wish I could be more pos­i­tive about The Turn­ing. It was a bold idea, per­haps a vi­sion­ary one. Win­ton is among our most revered writ­ers. And vis­ually the film is a joy — much of it set in a small com­mu­nity on the West Aus­tralian coast, with its an­gry seascapes, murky streams and foggy wood­lands. Has any Aus­tralian film brought to­gether more proven and po­ten­tial tal­ent? It’s like a pro­mo­tional reel for the lo­cal film in­dus­try.

With a cast in­clud­ing Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Robyn Nevin and Hugo Weav­ing, who could ask for more? Con­nolly’s idea was to in­vite a host of writ­ers, ac­tors, theatre di­rec­tors, an­i­ma­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers and chore­og­ra­phers to con­trib­ute some­thing to the fin­ished work, and many ven­tured into new fields. Thus Mia Wasikowska and David Wen­ham di­rect for the first time; War­wick Thorn­ton, who made the won­der­ful Sam­son & Delilah, di­rects one seg­ment in The Turn­ing and tries his hand at cin­e­matog­ra­phy in an­other. The open­ing se­quence is nar­rated by Colin Friels; Rose Byrne and Mi­randa Otto turn up in the ti­tle story, in which some­one else plays Je­sus.

So what ex­actly is The Turn­ing about, as­sum­ing it’s about any­thing? It’s hard to say. But there is a mood in of melan­choly in th­ese sto­ries, of re­gret, of ex­pe­ri­ence re­vis­ited through the prism of mem­ory, of char­ac­ters bur­dened by guilts and fears. Some­one called Vic Lang ap­pears in eight of the sto­ries, played by eight ac­tors from boy­hood to ma­tu­rity, and it was a while be­fore it dawned on me that he is meant to be the same per­son. Gail Lang, Vic’s wife, and Carol, his mother, are each played by three women.

Much of this in­for­ma­tion I gleaned from a glossy book­let to be dis­trib­uted to au­di­ences at screen­ings. And they’re go­ing to need it. My ad­vice would be to get a copy of the book­let in ad­vance and study it closely. You then may un­der­stand why Brakey is in love with his

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