And two stars are born …

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

don’t usu­ally like to make pre­dic­tions of the “this film is bound to win an Os­car” va­ri­ety as they have a habit of be­ing wrong. But for once I’ll stick my neck out: Si­mon Stone is go­ing to have an im­por­tant ca­reer as a film di­rec­tor and Odessa Young will be an in­ter­na­tional star.

The Daugh­ter is a new Aus­tralian film of great dis­tinc­tion: Young plays the ti­tle char­ac­ter in her se­cond screen role af­ter im­press­ing as the run­away teenager in Look­ing for Grace, and Stone, who is still in his early 30s and has al­ready carved out an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as a theatre di­rec­tor, proves with his fea­ture film de­but that he is com­pletely at home with cinema. Not just at home, but he’s able to ex­pand the medium with in­ven­tive­ness and con­sid­er­able skill.

Stone orig­i­nally adapted Hen­rik Ib­sen’s great play The Wild Duck for the stage, keep­ing the themes and nar­ra­tive arcs of the orig­i­nal while mod­ernising and dras­ti­cally adapt­ing the ma­te­rial. Some­what sur­pris­ingly, his film rep­re­sents quite a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from the stage, to the ex­tent that the role played by Ewen Les­lie, who was in the play and is also in the film, por­trays es­sen­tially a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter.

This is not the first film made in Aus­tralia to have been in­spired by Ib­sen’s play. In 1983, Henri Safran di­rected a ver­sion of the drama for which ac­tors Liv Ull­mann and Jeremy Irons were im­ported to play lead­ing roles. But Stone’s mod­erni­sa­tion breathes new life into the drama, and an im­pec­ca­ble and dis­tin­guished cast fur­ther en­hances the ma­te­rial.

The Daugh­ter was filmed around Tu­mut in NSW and is set in a small town that, for years, has re­lied for its sur­vival on the tim­ber mill that is the chief em­ployer. Its owner, the wealthy Henry Neil­son (Ge­of­frey Rush), has just an­nounced that the mill will be forced to close down, a de­ci­sion that pro­vokes re­sent­ment and gloom in the com­mu­nity. One of those di­rectly af­fected is Oliver Finch (Les­lie), who has worked at the mill all his life and whose father, Wal­ter ( Sam Neill), was once Henry’s clos­est friend.

While this up­heaval is go­ing on, Henry — whose wife com­mit­ted sui­cide some­time ear­lier — is about to marry Anna (Anna Torv), his house­keeper. The wed­ding brings Henry’s son Chris­tian (Paul Schneider) back from Amer­ica, where he’s lived for many years, and as a di­rect re­sult of his re­turn fam­ily se­crets and rev­e­la­tions threaten to de­stroy the mar­riage of Oliver and his wife Char­lotte (Mi­randa Otto), and the sta­bil­ity of their teenage daugh­ter Hed­wig (Young).

Th­ese en­twined re­la­tion­ships and his­to­ries are pre­sented by Stone with daz­zling econ­omy and skill. The first few min­utes of the film are filled with lu­cidly pre­sented in­for­ma­tion, achieved by the divi­sion of sound from im­age, so that of­ten a con­ver­sa­tion is heard on the sound­track while quite sep­a­rate vis­ual in­for­ma­tion is de­picted on screen.

This de­vice not only al­lows Stone to es­tab­lish char­ac­ters, re­la­tion­ships and a cer­tain amount of back­story swiftly and clearly, but it also dra­mat­i­cally de­picts the com­plex link­ages be­tween the char­ac­ters.

Stone’s knowl­edge of cinema is also ap­par­ent in his use of punc­tu­at­ing im­ages of the misty forests of this part of south­ern NSW, a de­vice that evokes the style of Ja­panese mas­ter Ya­su­jiro Ozu.

The en­tire cast re­sponds to the di­rec­tor’s sub­tle and in­tel­li­gent vi­sion, giv­ing per­for­mances that res­onate long af­ter the film is over. In a per­fect en­sem­ble, it seems churl­ish to sin­gle out one or two ac­tors, but Les­lie’s trou­bled Oliver is truly mem­o­rable, as is Young’s con­flicted Hed­wig. This young ac­tress, only 17 when the film was made, con­firms the im­pres­sion she made in the ear­lier Look­ing for Grace. As a girl ex­per­i­ment­ing with sex for the first time but still emo­tion­ally bound up in the lives of her par­ents Clock­wise from top, Paul Schneider and Mi­randa Otto, Sam Neill, and Ge­of­frey Rush with Anna Torv in scenes from The Daugh­ter; above, Anya Tay­lor-Joy in The Witch and grand­fa­ther, Young is ag­o­nis­ingly good, and a late scene in which she con­fronts Oliver in an open-air carpark is ut­terly wrench­ing.

This scene is shot by cin­e­matog­ra­pher An­drew Com­mis with a loose hand­held cam­era, a style that can prove jar­ring and ver­tigo-in­duc­ing if badly em­ployed. Here, though, the vi­su­als serve to re­flect the emo­tions of the char­ac­ters to pos­i­tive ef­fect.

I don’t know if there’ll be a bet­ter Aus­tralian film re­leased this year, but for now all I can do is to rec­om­mend in the strong­est terms this fine, pow­er­ful, emo­tional piece of cinema. The Witch: A New Eng­land Folk­tale is an­other first fea­ture film by a theatre di­rec­tor and it’s also an in­tel­li­gent and strik­ingly well-made cinema ex­pe­ri­ence, though far less ac­ces­si­ble than The Daugh­ter. Writer-di­rec­tor Robert Eg­gers comes from New Hamp­shire and ini­tially made his rep­u­ta­tion as a stage de­signer be­fore grad­u­at­ing to the di­rec­tor’s chair. He has cho­sen not to take the easy route in the pro­duc­tion of his first film, for which he has se­lected a sub­ject and style that seem re­mote from much of con­tem­po­rary cinema. In­deed, his in­spi­ra­tion seems to have been Dan­ish di­rec­tor Carl Dreyer’s wartime drama Day of Wrath, with which The Witch (the ti­tle ap­pears as “The VVitch” on the cred­its) shares many themes.

The film, beau­ti­fully pho­tographed by Jarin Blaschke in north­ern On­tario in tones of misty greys and greens, is set in about 1630 in a small com­mu­nity of pil­grims re­cently ar­rived in the New Land from Eng­land. The di­a­logue is ar­chaic and heav­ily ac­cented, re­sult­ing in oc- ca­sional prob­lems in com­pre­hen­sion, al­though the nar­ra­tive it­self is clear enough.

Wil­liam (Ralph Ine­son), his wife, Kather­ine (Kate Dickie), and their five chil­dren are ban­ished from their highly religious com­mu­nity for rea­sons that aren’t en­tirely clear. The fam­ily re­lo­cates to the edge of an iso­lated for­est, where they es­tab­lish a small farm. Not long af­ter their ar­rival in this new place, their baby, Sa­muel, dis­ap­pears while the old­est girl, Thomasin (Anya Tay­lor-Joy), is look­ing af­ter him. Was the child the vic­tim of a wolf or of some­thing more sin­is­ter? And is Thomasin, who is go­ing through the early stages of pu­berty, a witch, as her twin sib­lings come to be­lieve?

Strange things oc­cur. The corn Wil­liam has planted rots on the cob, a hen lays a bloody egg, a goat’s milk turns to blood, a hare with strange, yel­low eyes is seen prowl­ing around the prop­erty, and the fam­ily’s billy goat takes on a sin­is­ter char­ac­ter of its own. While all th­ese fear­ful and mys­te­ri­ous things are hap­pen­ing, the fam­ily’s se­cond child, Caleb (Har­vey Scrimshaw), is lured into the for­est by a mys­te­ri­ous woman in a red cloak.

As you will see from the above, the film has all the el­e­ments for a su­per­nat­u­ral thriller, but Eg­gers plays down the thrills and hor­ror in favour of an aus­tere and mys­te­ri­ous fa­ble, chill­ing in its re­morse­less de­pic­tion of the dis­in­te­gra­tion of a deeply religious fam­ily. The lit­tle­known cast of Bri­tish ac­tors suc­ceeds in con­vinc­ingly por­tray­ing th­ese threat­ened pil­grims who, while seek­ing out a new and bet­ter life, find them­selves in the middle of an in­ex­pli­ca­ble night­mare.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.