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A writer, Ned Kendall, is asked to return to the family home by his sister Sally, to say goodbye to his father who is dying. The family home is in a very remote and isolated area. While back home, Ned starts having memories of his beautiful twin sister and himself when they were children. These memories awaken long-buried secrets from the family's past. Written by
Beautiful in its name and in its nature; Rachel Ward's Australian drama about communication breakdown and lost innocence as well as lost life hits all the marks.
Beautiful Kate covers the emotionally wrenching comeuppance of a middle aged man venturing back to his childhood home so as to both figure out as well as address some serious issues from his life's past. He goes there with the general goal to do some serious soul searching, to tackle some items amidst a well-worn but still functioning farm-house that continues to house a father whom was always tough; the fact a mother died when he was a child; a young woman in the form of his fiancé who's travelling with him as well as a consistent sense of unease as he tries oh-so-very hard to confront personal demons which still resonate. The locale is a rather desolate and somewhat lonely patch of land based in the outback of Australia, a small enough house with quite a stretch of land around it but with very little in either direction although a whole lot in the form of history contained within.
We begin with the lead, a writer in his early forties; a handsome man with the wry gift of the gab and a fairly easy-going, laid back demeanour, named Ned (Mendelsohn) who's driving across barren patches of back-o-beyond Australia in what is a long drive a character identifies as "half way across the continent" - that woman the aforementioned fiancé named Toni (Dermody). The opening echoes the twisting, turning and persistently enticing nature of the rest of the film; at once calling to mind the likes of controversial feature film/novel Lolita in its depiction of a much younger woman involved with a man she herself identifies as old, the opening constructing a seductive and sexually aggressive portrait of young Toni, whom still sports her corner-shop plastic name-tag and informs us all of her desire to be an actress. We unaware of where they're headed or where they've headed from; maybe they are running from something, the presence of Toni's name-tag perhaps suggesting a hurried exit whereas the definitive lead to proceedings is made unclear as the question as to whether Ned is savvy enough to Toni's obvious sexuality hangs over events.
The film has them travel through the finer areas of the zone, specifically places that are perceived as more hostile-a territory in this, the great Australian void, as a sign informing people to 'keep out' hangs on top of a pole. On another occasion, a stray kangaroo ventures into the road and hits their car - the sight of death and blood and the result of a creature halfway to being alive and on its way to whatever's lurking after life visibly shakes Toni; Ned's reaction is far more measured, as if experience with this sort of event or material is familiar to him. Once at the family house, we realise it is still occupied by Ned's sister, Sally (Griffiths); she runs it on account of their father, Bruce (Brown), who's bed ridden and in need of frequent medical attention given his serious health condition that sees him close to death.
Director Ward's screenplay brings the characters, a disparate bunch all bound by the same family name or, in Toni's case, at least some form of intensified tie to one of the family members, together on a number of occasions and has the dialogue crackle as a result. Bruce's despondent and overly pessimistic tone a gruelling overlying resonance to proceedings, as his son attempts to reconcile a series of painful and agonising memories from his youth. Sally appears the more submissive of the household; a telling, and rather more emotionally charged than you'd expect, scene between her and Ned seeing her reveal to him that she has the habit of escaping her real-life persona, or world, and into an exotic Internet chat-room Salsa bar in which everybody is beautiful and drinks are free. This desire to escape or to let oneself loose into a new body is symptomatic with lead Ned's own desire to rid the ugly memories of the past by addressing it in a fresh novel he's chosen to written, eerily ritualistic nature, at his family home. At one point, Bruce attempts to transgress the notion of Toni being the meager, flirtatious one by inferring a past characteristic unto Ned more broadly linked to that of his fondness for easy sex with women as young as Toni. Ward peppers her film with the odd notion or question which begs to be asked - perhaps it is Toni who's being fooled into whatever, maybe the characteristics and conventions which the film utilised to define her during the opening segments are closer to being used against her by this man Ned.
Instilled into all of this is Toni's young, flimsy and flirtatious nature which very quickly sees her tire of her surroundings; the result of which is the toying with her husband to-be through a series of sexually charged notions, something all the more agonising when precisely what it is Ned's psychologically battling with comes to fruition. As the outsider to proceedings, Toni is our beacon upon which to experience most of these people and these surroundings for the very first time; the film slyly and highly effectively shifting gears and transferring what might be assumed to be the lead character in Toni onto that of Ned in the most natural and convincing of fashions. The film branches out and is made up of Ned's time at this house, often harking back to encompass his relationship with titular younger sister Kate (Lowe), something which is additionally given the utmost care and attention when constructed. Rachel Ward's film mutates, very slowly; even cunningly, into a rich character study as people come and go in and out of one other's lives, the whole time this catastrophic back-story lingering over proceedings, a back-story that is at once confrontative and, yes, disturbing but always morbidly fascinating as twists and turns play out in the past tense culminating in how it is our lead is why he is.
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