"Lantana" does not embody a story like most movies; it isn't about anything in particular. It's a movie about characters. Not larger-than-life super heroes, but characters who succumb to temptation, cheat on their wives, doubt their spouses, make mistakes and suffer consequences. In other words, "Lantana" is about real people. Normal, imperfect people like all of us. Not that everyone behaves like the characters here, but few films capture transgression with such compassion and sympathy.
Set in Australia, a colorful pallet of characters paints a vivid, coherent psychological portrait of infidelity, deceit, and estrangement. At the center of the film is four couples, immersed in guilt and depravity for different reasons. Everybody has something to hide. The conflicts of these people illuminate the personal crisis of a police detective (Anthony LaPaglia) as he investigates the disappearance of a local woman.
Apart from the investigation, the couples have little connection with each other. They do have one thing in common, however, that none of them communicates with their loved ones. "Lantana" proves communication enforces commitment, but a lack thereof results in disaster. This sincere, uncompromising picture places the lack of communication at the center of family problems.
The film won various Australian Film Awards for its performances, screenplay, and direction by Ray Lawrence. Lawrence clearly intended the title-referring to a tropical shrub with beautiful flowers that hide dense, thorny undergrowth-to represent the characters' private lives hidden behind an outward appearance. He's got the wrong metaphor. These characters do not appear sunny on the inside, outside, front or back. They don't wear masks or attempt to cover their frowning states of mind. They are unhappy people, and the movie never pretends otherwise.
Those qualities make the characters absorbing. Instead of providing them with outlets and opportunities to hide their faults, the film pokes, prods, and starves them of their happiness until they reach a breaking point. For some, the breaking point results in an explosion of anger. For others, it's subtle and personal. "Lantana" investigates real people who deal with real situations and encounter real consequences.
None of the characters are model citizens, yet we care deeply about each of them. When someone cries, we feel sorry for them. When someone begs for forgiveness, we try to forgive them. When someone questions their spouse, we are concerned with both sides of the marriage. These people make big mistakes; the results of their mistakes are never certain. The movie does not neatly pull things together at the end. It doesn't allow the characters an easy way out. These characters must dig themselves out of their problems.
"Lantana" is one of the most compelling, involving films of the year. It's based on a play called "Speaking in Tongues" by Andrew Bovell, who also wrote the fluid screenplay. I want to see this play. If these characters feel so alive, so real, so tormented on screen, think of their power in person.