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An advertising executive dies and goes to hell... except nothing changes. Well, his daughter is buying drugs with sexual favours from her brother, and the number of cancer-causing products is on the increase. But the notes he writes to himself to prove he hasn't gone insane are getting more disjointed, and he runs off with an ex-prostitute called Honey Barbera. Written by
David Carroll <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Australian Broadcasting Commission recently treated its Saturday night audience to a director's cut showing of Ray Lawrence's semi-classic to coincide with the release of Lawrences's next film, made a mere 15 years later, `Lantana'. Unlike `Lantana', adapted from Andrew Bovell's play, `Bliss' is derived from Peter Carey's novel, yet is a very cinematic piece. Both Lawrence and Carey laboured long in the advertising world and clearly enjoy sending up the foibles of the hucksters.
The protagonist, Harry Joy, teller of tales (especially to policemen), can sell almost any campaign to his morally challenged clients. He drives a Jaguar and lives in a splendid large house in the leafiest part of Sydney's North Shore. Unfortunately Harry is felled by a heart attack after a long (family) lunch and wakes up in what appears to be Hell, which strangely enough seems to be just like his life on earth. He finds his wife shamelessly carrying on with a particularly vulgar American colleague, his nerdy Young Liberal son trading cocaine to his sister in return for sex, and his biggest client frantically trying to conceal the fact that their artificial sweetner causes cancer. Harry storms out to hole up in a luxury hotel where he orders in a girl, Honey Barbara. She turns out to be an alternative society person earning a bit of money for her north coast community. Naturally Harry falls deeply in love, but their romance is rudely interrupted by Harry being carted off to a mental hospital (at whose behest is not clear). Harry gets out, and sets off to find his honey flower girl.
You could describe the style here as early Australian magic realism (the fish dropping from Harry's wife's vagina as she lies about her affair, for example). Some of it is surreal, like the opening sequence when Harry's mother stands in the rain like some religious figure in a small boat outside a flooded church (a similar shot showed up in `Oscar and Lucinda' a couple of years later). The soaring camera beautifully captures Harry's out-of-body experience following his heart attack, and the scenes shot in the rainforest are appropriately lyrical.
Barry Otto as Harry gives us a decent if somewhat self-centred man confronted with the futility of the fatuous lifestyle that he has so effectively promoted to others. Even as he goes to pieces we can see him looking for a way out even hell must have an escape hatch or service tunnel somewhere and we are not surprised when he finds it. Lynette Curran as Harry's tough bitch wife carries off what could be a repellent role with great panache, particularly in her final scene. Miles Buchanan (scarcely seen since), with a fantastic 30s brylcream hairstyle, is particularly effective as the young fogey dope-dealing son (`I'm just a businessman'). Jon Ewing does an amusingly campy number as a haughty restauranteur who despises most of his diners and Bryan Marshall is very effective as Harry's befuddled client. Gia Carides as Harry's daughter Lucy, is fairly unremarkable here but has gone on to an active movie and TV career.
Although this is a film on its own terms the essential quirkiness of the book is retained. The message on one level is stark; our consumer society values are f**ked and we better get back to nature fast, yet somehow Lawrence and Carey don't beat us over the head with it humour takes precedence over anger. And, of course there are dangers in nature also, as the ending shows.
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