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On a Friday after a horrific train crash, three newsmen in Adelaide must take stock: Nick, a photojournalist, learns he has cancer; Andy, a writer with two children who has a bad relationship with his ex, learns his girlfriend Anna is pregnant; Phil, an editor, realizes he's missing his children's growing up. That afternoon, Meryl, an artist who illustrates sympathy cards and constantly imagines disasters, witnesses a train accident kill a man. At the crash site, she meets Nick, and a relationship flowers over the next three days which makes them both question their lives, wants and needs. Nick's mother, Andy's kids and ex, the dead man's girlfriend, the driver of the train, and his son round out an ensemble of grief and sorrow as each character becomes linked to another through the train accident. Can decisions to act bring hope? Written by
This year's Australian movies have been small-scale, about ordinary people, scenic and derivative ("Oyster Farmer", "Peaches"), if occasionally on target ("Three Dollars"). "Look Both Ways" is small-scale, about ordinary people, not particularly scenic (the locations are less salubrious parts of Adelaide "railway cuttings") but definitely not derivative. Visually it is one of the most original movies I have seen for a long time. The visuals tell much of the story and barely a scene is superfluous. It's not just the use of animation to convey a character's thought and feelings; every scene has something in it that's part of the story, but this picture show is never intrusive. Sarah Watt, the animator whose first feature this is would have been a natural in the silent movie era.
The action in the film covers a hot February weekend in Adelaide and starts with a death a man out walking his dog somehow winds up under a slow-moving passing freight train (there are no fences). Meanwhile ruggedly handsome newspaper photographer Nick (William McGuiness) has just been informed by one of those doctors with a personality by-pass that he has a rather serious, in fact probably terminal case of testicular cancer (which is pretty tough really since the 5 year survival rate for this form of cancer is 95%).
He tells his editor Phil (Andrew S Gilbert) who sends him out with brash reporter Andy (Anthony Hayes) to cover the man under train story. On site Nick meets artist Meryl (Justine Clarke) who has witnessed the death. The next morning they meet again, and by the evening they are mustn't spoil the story. Andy is having relationship problems with Anna (Lisa Flanagan) his attractive and pregnant Koori girlfriend, which is not surprising since he is treating her like trash, as well as with his ex-wife. The train-driver is brooding over the accident, watched over by his silent though strangely composed son and the dead man's girlfriend is trying to come to terms with her loss.
The interwoven stories are of course reminiscent of "Lantana", many a Robert Altman movie starting with "Nashville", and Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia". The trick is to wrap them all up together in a satisfying way, and Sarah Watt largely achieves this, though you have to concentrate at the end on a flying photographic montage if you want a hopeful, if not happy ending. Although William McGuiness and Justine Clarke are the lead actors, the rest of the cast shine as well; even the minor roles are well executed for example Maggie Dence as Nick's mother, Edwin Hodgeman as his now-dead father, Sacha Horler as Meryl's flatmate and Andreas Sobik as the train driver (who has only one line of dialogue).
You can't help wondering what Sarah Watt would do if she had a budget the size Peter Jackson now has. Jackson started out making cheap splatter films in NZ which were gory but inventive, and went on to greater things. Perhaps Sarah is not such an eccentric genius but she is very honest with her material her emotions are true, and not an exercise in audience manipulation - and her visual sense extraordinary. She is telling it like she sees and feels it, and the audience cannot but respond positively.
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