What lies be­neath

JIND­ABYNE Di­rected by Ray Lawrence. Star­ring Laura Lin­ney, Gabriel Byrne, Chris Hay­wood, John Howard 15A cert, Queen’s, Belfast; Cineworld/IFI/Screen, Dublin, 123 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews Film - DON­ALD CLARKE

A KEY scene in Ray Lawrence’s de­ter­minedly po-faced fol­low-up to Lan­tana be­gins with a pub­lic ar­gu­ment be­tween the cou­ple (Gabriel Byrne and Laura Lin­ney) around whose mis­er­able af­fairs the film re­volves. When some male strangers prof­fer a with­er­ing re­mark about the wife’s sup­pos­edly hys­ter­i­cal be­hav­iour, the hus­band makes as if to con­front them, but – af­ter check­ing his part­ner has turned away – then ar­ranges his face into an ironic grin con­vey­ing his tacit agree­ment that she, like all women, is to­tally barmy.

This un­likely, forced ex­change high­lights the ar­ti­fi­cial qual­ity that some­times hangs over the dra­matic ex­changes in this mostly worth­while slice of An­tipodean melan­choly. It also serves to un­der­line the un­so­phis­ti­cated at­ti­tude to sex­ual pol­i­tics – nasty men ver­sus over-emo­tional women – that per­vades the film. Jind­abyne is a clever, thought­ful piece of work, but not nearly as clever or as thought­ful as it be­lieves it­self to be.

Claire and Ste­wart, who live in a re­mote, joy­less town in Aus­tralia, have long been un­happy and, their abil­ity to of­fer mu­tual sup­port thus weak­ened, do not prove up to the task of deal­ing with a cri­sis that fol­lows a dis­as­trous fish­ing trip in the moun­tains.

Ste­wart and his bud­dies find the body of an Abo­rig­i­nal wo­man float­ing in the river and, fail­ing to do the right thing, tie the corpse to a bush and wait days be­fore in­form­ing the au­thor­i­ties. When the news gets out, Ste­wart is ac­cused of be­ing a racist. Re­la­tions be­tween the cou­ple de­te­ri­o­rate. Their son com­mits a mi­nor atroc­ity at school. In-laws squab­ble. A se­rial killer lurks. High-kick­ing mu­si­cal num­bers are con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence.

So Much Wa­ter So Close to Home, the Ray­mond Carver story that in­spired Jind­abyne, has al­ready been filmed as one part of Robert Alt­man’s Short Cuts, but Lawrence’s pic­ture has more in com­mon with the grim­mer per­sonal dra­mas of Ing­mar Bergman than it does with the Alt­man film. The two lead per­for­mances are cer­tainly sin­cerely rooted, and David Wil­liamson’s pho­tog­ra­phy makes good use of the land­scapes’ hazy beauty.

The sus­tained mis­ery seems, how­ever, some­what af­fected and the fi­nal scenes at an Abo­rig­i­nal mourn­ing cer­e­mony speak as much of the film- mak­ers’ own so­cial guilt as of the char­ac­ters’ re­morse. The Swedes do th­ese things bet­ter.

Bet­ter left dead and un­said: Laura Lin­ney and Gabriel Byrne in Jind­abyne

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