Sybylla Melvyn is an independent young woman who soon after arriving to live with her Grandmother Bossier and aunt Helen announces that she will never marry and plans on having a career ... See full summary »
Sybylla Melvyn is an independent young woman who soon after arriving to live with her Grandmother Bossier and aunt Helen announces that she will never marry and plans on having a career instead. She does attracts the interest of several suitors. The bumbling Englishman Frank Hawdon has only been in Australia for three months and proposes that she return home with him as his wife. She rejects him out of hand telling her grandmother that she does not love him. Then there's her neighbor, the handsome young farmer Harry Beecham, who she is attracted to and eventually accepts his proposal. Time passes however and in the end refuses to marry him while she seeks to become a writer. Written by
Though actress Judy Davis did not win the Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Actress for this film to which her performance had been internationally acclaimed, Davis did win an AFI Best Actress Award for another Gillian Armstrong film, High Tide (1987). See more »
I think ugly girls should be shot at birth by their parents. It's bad enough being born a girl...but ugly and clever...
Oh, fancy you're clever, do you?
I rather hope so. I'm done for if I'm not!
See more »
Sometimes a life in film brings an experience like this. Its oddly tense in some dimensions and relaxed in others and the balance between the two seems distinctly Australian. I hadn't seen this when it was new, and I'm glad. Seeing a great film for the first time is a distinct pleasure.
I can think of only two similar pleasures in life.
Reviewers often focus on the story; its the common currency for discussion. The interesting fact behind the power of this movie is that the story is incoherent, poorly developed. There are a few main characters and none of them are attached to what are considered necessities for storytelling. They aren't introduced, we see them only through the effect of their presence. They don't develop. They influence nothing.
The main character is presented as a sort of Jane Austen both an Austen woman encouraged to marry, and Austen herself as a sort of author-in-her-own-book, like we saw in the 1999 film of Mansfield Park. But the odd thing is that we have Austen in Australia, the role and all the expectations without the baroque mechanics of society swirling around. Instead we get cows and sheep.
And emptiness, a cinematic vastness that even the US hasn't yet produced, despite Terence Malick.
So the incompleteness of the story is part of the genius of the thing. Our heroine doesn't have an Austenian future, instead becomes a backcountry Louisa May Alcott or George Sand. Indeed, Davis did go on to play Sand and Anderson went on to direct "Little Women." What our filmmaker has done is create a story where we subconsciously notice something is missing. And then she fills it with two things, this translucent actress and a similarly translucent open landscape.
First the landscape. Watch the opening of this. Its genius, shooting from outside in, peering in through windows and doors while we see literally the story beginning to be written. Then we shoot from the inside through the same windows out and see a dust tempest beginning.
This notion of space, inadequate enclosure, book and heroine conflated into them and weaving through them was copied after a fashion in the opening for the 2005 "Pride and Prejudice." Here, it is fresh, original, shocking. Effective, even life-affirming.
You can see a similar master vision in how the ending is shaped. We see our woman, a best friend by this time, going to mail her book to us. She approaches the fence and her dog scurries under, unconstrained by fences. Its a small thing, but by then we've become aware of how wonderfully our hidden woman behind the camera has shaped everything so minutely. That dog moves under the gate naturally, using a gait and hole that can only have come through hundreds of such exits. I have no idea how Anderson did it.
And now to Ms. Davis. Over time you pick things from the film vocabulary that you cleave to, things that naturally tip into the bucket of your soul. One of these for me is a certain type of folded acting I've noticed in Australian actresses. Blanchett, Winslet are the ones I follow deeply.
But you can see it here and I imagine that this is the first appearance of the style in a competent film. In my own historiography, Judy Davis invented it and does so here. If you watch her manner, you can see Cate. The style is what I call folded, where we get both the character and a higher level communication from the actor about the character.
We have a few folded actresses. What's even rarer is when the actress is intelligent and skilled enough to place that higher fold in the center of the filmmaker's intention. It happens here. Its beautiful, on a simpler level echoing the fact that we see a book, its making, and various considerations about the making of the book.
Because it is this sort of translucent folding, we see Cate when we see Judy.
You won't soon forget that.
I'm putting this on my list of films you really must see. Readers may be shocked. I only allow myself two from any given years and this year gave us "Alien," "Apocalypse Now," "Manhattan," and "Tree of Wooden Clogs," all of which are bumped by this. But this will change you, a female Herzog, unHerzog.
Now if I can only see "High Tide."
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
14 of 22 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?