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
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