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After more than forty years apart, Andreas and Claire embark on an affair as reckless and intense as when they were young lovers. Widowed musician Andreas decides to get back in touch with his one great love, Claire, who is still married to her first husband, John. Andreas and Claire find that the connection they shared when they were young is still there and they soon become involved in a rekindled love affair. However, this time around, there are more complications, including the possibilities of ill health and death, as well as the impact their relationship might have on John. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
You expect thought-provoking films from Paul Cox, the director of Man of Flowers (1983), My First Wife (1984) and other films that take an uncompromising or quirky view of life. This film is another in that fine tradition.
Who hasn't thought about a first love and wondered? Perhaps wondered whether the break, when it came, was the right move? Or wondered why it broke off? Or wondered about a countless number of things that might or might not have happened?
Using that idea as the starting point, Cox constructed an intricate visual narrative about what could happen should an aging man a widower choose to contact the woman he first loved some forty-five years earlier, with the view of finding out how her life has turned out.
A perfectly innocent idea, one could think. Except that, when contacted, the man discovers that the woman is still married. Undeterred, he also realizes he is still as passionate now or more so and sets out to rekindle the flame of their youth. Equally she responds, at first tentatively, but soon with reckless abandon.
And so begins the re-awakening of a first love that both parties thought had withered away...but not entirely forgotten by either. And so, the fundamental question that Cox asks his players to portray, however, is this: just what sort of love is it now, after forty plus years? Is it still true love? Is it simply lust? Is it a mix? More importantly, what is love, after all?
With such a topic, this could have been reduced to a banal pot-boiler, a weepy soap, or grand melodrama in the hands of less experienced writer/directors. It's none of those: instead, it's a mature enquiry into the true nature of married love versus romance. Affairs, of course, have been a staple of Hollywood and others, I guess, in such well-remembered films as An Affair To Remember 1959), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1955), Brief Encounter (1944) and many others.
None of that saccharine sentimentality forms any part of this narrative. Instead, it's so down to earth, I began to wonder whether Australia has a peculiar kind of love: different cultures handle this topic differently, for sure, but only in Australia, I think, would a woman leave her lover's bed, go home, and then start cooking dinner for her aggrieved husband. Are Aussies that stolid, that practical, or that uncaring? Even as an Australian, I'm not sure...
There's very little in the manner of hysterical lamentations or outraged ranting; and only the husband shows brief anger towards his grown son, the doctor who tries to counsel his mother and father to no avail, of course. What there's plenty of, however, is confusion, as each character tries to adjust to a couple in their mid-sixties having an open affair. So, as you might expect, there are moments of light comedy, wistful reminiscences, and, of course, rolling around in bed, locked together but very tastefully done.
But is it all realistic, and truly representative, given the setting, the culture, and their age? Well, I'm sure most of us have seen true-life results of affairs: most are not pretty; some are down and dirty; a few are murderous. In contrast, this affair is quiet, contained and very civilized.
But, in Australia, I've never seen oldies like myself rolling around on a riverside grass verge, or kissing passionately on a suburban train station; it could happen, however, I'll grant you. However, most older Aussies of the type portrayed - still have a remnant of that Celtic reserve brought over when the colony started in 1788; and it hangs on. Perhaps, then , Cox is simply holding up the idea that such an affair is possible, even between people who are so reserved, so settled and in the twilight of their diminishing years; and especially in Australia. In truth, I'd like to see that, and this story is as good as it gets, perhaps.
As the lover-come-back wannabe, Bud Tingwell, as Andreas, gives a great understated portrayal of a man who's found a new lease on life but, ironically, too late; Julia Blake, as Claire, is almost unbelievably stunning; Terry Norris, as John, the confused husband, is valiant in his efforts to win his wife back. The standout albeit brief performance, however, comes from Marta Dusseldorp, as Monique, Andreas's daughter whose care and concern for her aging father is achingly real.
My real criticism is with the script: at times, I was a bit uncomfortable with the lack of expletives you would expect to hear from people who are greatly upset emotionally, and all with diction that remains so perfectly enunciated, and with very little idiomatic or slang expressions. Not quite what you'd hear from Aussies in reality, I think, even those well educated and still religious, as they all apparently are. I doubt that even one of them said 'bloody'. Perhaps that was intentional by Cox, though, to garner a wider international audience?
Some may be disappointed in the ending as being too contrived, being almost a parody of an ecstatic whirling Dervish. My only thought is that there are so many endings that could happen. This was just one that had to happen.
Those aspects apart, it's still a fine story and film, and one that I'd recommend.
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