Bliss (1985) Poster

(1985)

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Poetic satire blissfully filmed
Philby-36 November 2001
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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10/10
Perfect!
Dunks29 September 1998
Ray Lawrence's adaptation of Peter Carey's novel is one of those rare birds - a perfect screen adaptation of a great book.

Harry Joy, an advertising executive, has a near-fatal heart attack - but when he recovers he is convinced he is in hell. And why not? His bitchy wife is having a torrid affair right under his nose, his son is trading drugs for sex with his own sister, and his ad agency represents the most destructive and polluting companies in town. Harry's life spirals out of control until he breaks away from his awful family and finds redemption in his love for the beautiful Honey Barbara.

Filled with extraordinary images, the film captures the surreal mood, the sense of hidden menace and the outrageous black humour of Carey's book, and brings the characters vividly to life.

Barry Otto, one of Australia's greatest actors, is perfect as Harry and he is brilliantly supported by an outstanding cast, including Lynette Curran as his horrible wife, Miles Buchanan as his evil and depraved son, Gia Carides as the daughter, and especially Helen Jones as his hippy 'innamorata', Honey Barbara.

If you can find it, the longer "director's cut" version is a must-see, for the amazing police-station scene - inexplicably removed from the initial release version - where Harry, under arrest after a series of bizarre and hilarious incidents, transfixes the cops with one of his famous stories. Barry Otto delivers an electrifying monologue, in one long, unedited scene, with the camera gradually pulling closer and closer to an extreme closeup of his face.

"Bliss" is director Ray Lawrence's only feature film to date - but one perfect film is better than ten duds!
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A film of beauty
JMconnell29 November 2001
Not just a film, but also an experience. A man dies from a heart attack and is bought back to life. He is however convinced he is in hell. Feeling confused and scared by the strangeness of his family and the world around him, he starts to have a breakdown. It seems his only salvation lies in the arms of a prostitute, but can you find love in hell?

This is a truly beautiful movie, at times scary, at times befuddling. Like the world Harry Bliss lives in, like the world we live in.
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9/10
"Australian Beauty"
Mister Joy8 June 2001
When I saw the first trailer for American Beauty a couple of years ago, I said, "Hmm. Looks like an American version of 'Bliss'." Which it was, only not as good and not as brave.

"Harry Joy was a man who liked to tell stories," says the narrator, and this film is full of stories: Histories told through incident, Realities literally warped by perception, Fantasies anchored in Truth, etc. "In New York, there are towers of glass, and the Devil himself drives a big Cadillac Limousine right down Fifth Avenue."

Surreal and enervating, informed by Dante's Inferno and with an ending you never saw coming, this has been one of my very favorite films for sixteen years. It's where I got the name "Mister Joy" ("No, you are NOT Harry Joy, you are MISter Joy.").

Too bad Lester Burnham didn't see it when he was a younger man.
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Too much.
Spleen25 April 2002
If Lawrence had cut out a third of the film it would have been better. Within reason, I think he could have got rid of ANY third. A third of the storyline could have gone (the beginning, the middle, the end, or fragments throughout), or a sixth of the storyline plus a sixth of the character development, or a third of the quirkiness, or a third of the odd devices (straight-to-the-camera narrative could have stayed on condition the dream sequences went, or vice versa, or some such). It's like the plate of an overly ambitious diner at a banquet, with quail eggs, a potato dumpling, salad, a banana fritter, baked trout, a small slice of quiche, a strawberry, eggplant, satayed parsnip with brown rice, two roast chestnuts and four kinds of cheese. Thankfully, the elements are positioned so as not to ruin one another's flavour, but there's just too many of them.

But at least this is a fault on the right side.

It's as if "Bliss" were a repository, or a central font, of all of the offbeat black humour, all the odd characters, and all the quirky local colour, to have appeared in every Australian film made since. This isn't a bad thing. (My earlier complaint is that its ferociously luxuriant growth could have been cut back by a third and it would STILL have contained all the offbeat black humour, etc.) What makes it great is that it's more sincere than any of its imitators. A mere seventeen years old, it seems to date from a magical, all-but-forgotten pre-digital age, when we REALLY made films, and didn't just play at doing so.

On reflection: I don't care if there IS too much here. So much of it is so good, like the prim, fascist manager of the lunatic ward, the scene in which the cancer map is unveiled (Lawrence makes much out of a mere conversation in a hotel room), and the "love letter" to Honey Barbara. The strength which flows through the film's limbs is probably inherited from the era in which it was made. This decade (from a few years into the 1980s until a few years into the 1990s) saw Australian society at its most optimistic, tolerant and decent. We've come a long way downhill in the short time since.
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Give this one a chance.
nowwhatcreative5 March 2004
Ray Lawrence, the director of "Bliss," and Paul Murphy, its cinematographer, were both first-time feature filmmakers when they made "Bliss." I believe the movie swept the Australian "Oscars" in '85, and in my humble opinion, deservedly so.

The tone is somewhat dark, the genre surrealist comedy, the performances deliciously eccentric, and the storytelling masterful. "Bliss" reminds me more of some of my favorite novels than it does any other films. Peter Carey's novel and adaptation have some of the feeling of John Irving's earlier works, but it's not derivative. The cinematography is gorgeous and understated. It has a surprisingly romantic core beneath a fairly jaded surface, which I think is a tough combination to pull off.

It isn't appropriate for kids (it has sophisticated, adult themes and, at moments, a very frank approach to sex) and it has an unexpectedly epic, languorous feel toward the end (so don't watch it when you're sleepy), but if you're serious about appreciating movies, you owe it to yourself to give this one a chance. Enjoy!
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8/10
things that cause cancer
BERSERKERpoetry30 April 2009
There's an awful lot going on in "Bliss". I've never seen a film that takes so many directions and so many plot turns and twists while still maintaining a general coherence of purpose. It manages this only because it means what it says. Unlike a lot of similarly abstract films, there's not really an agenda to be weird just because it's possible. The direction and cinematography surprisingly doesn't go for the shocking. Instead, the look of the film is natural. Real lighting, normal colours. So all the fantastical stuff stands out all the more.

Barry Otto plays a man with a lot of personal conflict, and a strange sort of charisma. He's a storyteller above all, and that's what "Bliss" is also most interested in. Creating real people first, then putting them into the plot. Everyone is developed as much as they need to be, fleshed out to surprising degrees. Barry Otto is very good as the storyteller, but the really surprising bit is the performance of Helen Jones.

There's certainly flaws to the film as a whole. It goes too far down certain trails, gives too much importance to some events that don't necessarily lead forward. But the best parts are amongst the best bits of any film of this style, so the missteps can be forgiven. If you like slightly messy, mostly brilliant, mostly forgotten films, "Bliss" is perfect for you.
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10/10
A underrated masterpiece. One of the top 100 films of all time.
simon-21816 December 2001
The film "American Beauty" has so many similarities to Bliss that the resemblence is surely more than coincidental. Both are great films but Bliss is more cerebral and overall a superior film.

Enjoy it. A must see.
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10/10
Simply The Best!
jamesbourke5927 September 2010
In all my years of movie watching, there are not many movies out there that I can honestly say, really entertained me as much as this movie, granted when I first watched Bliss, I was fourteen years old.

Some might think, that at that age, such a movie would be out with the emotional grasp of person that age, these days I would say exactly just the same thing, however, even back then I always found myself watching more independently made movies than big blockbusters, such is still the case to this day.

Ask me why I like this movie, all I can say is this, it contains a certain dark charm that even now I still find seriously overwhelming. Having never read the book written by Peter Carey, the big screen adaptation was was littered with some great acting performances, the main plus point being Barry Otto excelling as Harry Joy, the man who believes he has it all, until that day he happens to die.

As to how faithful the movie is to the book, I cannot say, but various scenes that follow, truly walk a perverse line, Harry's son's sexual feelings toward his sister being one of many disturbing plot strands.

As to how you would categorise this movie, some might say it's a horror movie, some might say that it's a romantic movie, the underlying theme suggests horrific themes, lack of faith, adultery(Harry's wife cheating on Harry behind his back, with his business partner)but the overwhelming aspect is that of Romance, as Harry retells the tale of the longest love story ever told to a young lady, of how he first met the woman who changed his life, the one and only Honey Barbara.

Filled with many scenes of surreal imagery, I highly recommend this movie to anyone who loves firstly Australian cinema, this movie along with Philipe Mora's Death Of A Soldier rank as to of the best examples of Australian cinema and also to those who love unconventional storytelling.

Because this movie is simply the best! Without Hesitation this movie gets 10/10
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10/10
How Can A Film So Great Go So Unnoticed?
johnleeblackwell4 February 2011
Well there certainly are not many of us alive that love this film. Did everyone look for this for years like me? I'm 41 and watched it when I was 17 and ever since I have been trying to get it again! Does anyone know where you can buy it? It's definitely in the Top 10 Movies of all time for me. There are many things I wish to say about it, but for two reasons I will restrain myself from detailing them just yet. Firstly, because I have not seen it for 25 years and secondly, because I fear that instead of recent memory I will 'create' things that may not be there - so I need someone to put me out of my misery and locate a copy of the Movie for me to buy - then I'll be back to attempt to get this Film released again for a wider contemporary audience. Cinematic art like this is simply no longer made.
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9/10
Superb
daly-robyn27 March 2010
Barry Otto is superb in this clever allegory. The first half is a biting look at the dysfunctional family of a dysfunctional man in a dysfunctional industry (advertising for cancer-causing industries), who until his death by heart attack sees himself as happy and successful in the best of all possible worlds. After his heart operation he realizes he is actually living in hell. He decides to make things right by "being good", whereupon he meets up with a bush-dwelling earth mother and part-time hooker who introduces him to environmental awareness and alternative living. The second half is a bit slow, but overall it's a brilliant film.
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9/10
parabolic parable
jediteacher11 February 2006
It's so distressing that this '85 morality tale isn't available in any form or shape,except of course in the arcane vid store-only accessible to those in the know.

Harry Joy and the Joy family are presented to us as story book characters in a nightmarish old school nursery rhyme formula. What makes the fairy tale work is that we can identify so easily with the neuroses of both the city people and the country people.

The story focuses on an unfolding parable,and all parables unfold by means of breakdown. Harry Joy and his family slowly breakdown,his soul infested with Beelzebub's winged minions-flies and bugs-suddenly becomes apparent to him after his comfortable middle class body dies and his spirit begins its journey to the afterlife. Huzzah-the afterlife!

A complex weave including a very realistic spiritual portrayal of decay vs. modern skepticism, and a novel/ancient take on redemption.

This is a masterful and scorching look at the loss of faith in the era of the sales pitched soul. This one is worth finding- the 80's elements that usually earmark any flick made in the eighties, here serves as a boost and just gives us an even better look at the struggle with our neuroses. Great stuff!
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10/10
Sticks with you forever
roedyg22 October 2007
This is one of those movies you find yourself thinking about again and again years after you see it.

It contains perhaps the most poetic moment in cinema, the patient gift of the honey bushes.

I might compare this movie to going to see IMax, or 3D for the first time. Though there is nothing technologically unusual about it, it feels like a new kind of cinematic experience. It drags you along in a magical sort of way.

It is no secret that Harry dies early in the film. His death experience is utterly unnerving the way it seems so real, strange and yet plausible with none of the schlock usually associated with such depictions.
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9/10
How can movies like 'Bliss' receive no attention or praise ?
kymiand21 December 2005
This movie is funny, sad, mature, surreal and overall it leave's you feeling good, real good. A story about what really matter's in life, an' that's love. I was actually feeling joyful after seeing this. I really believe "American Beauty" was inspired by this movie, like the narration and perspective, kind of like an "Angel's"!..This is a story about Harry Joy, an advertising agent, father of two teenager's and married to a cheating, overly ambitious wife, and to top it off, Harry is about to have a heart-attack. After Harry's near death experience, in which he first visualizes his soul go toward's heaven but then it turn's down to hell. Harry pull's through but he doesn't really believe he left hell. So Harry begin's to view life from a new perspective, realizing his career in advertising is about selling lies and that his marriage is not about love, his kid's may as well be complete stranger's, and his business partner is sleeping with his wife, whom both are just waiting for poor Harry to die so they can take over. Harry does die, in a metaphorical way, and is reborn, so Harry tries to make the most of what's left in his life, and then the funny love story part of the movie begin's, which is really beautiful. This movie really highlight's what's "good" about life. Educational and insightful. Check it out. Grud k.
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10/10
This Is One Of The Best Movies Ever, Totally Insightful
talas115 February 2003
Barry Otto should have won the Academy Award for his acting in this film. His transitions and quirkiness and humanness are beautifully crafted; everyone else is great too, the actors playing his wife, kids and 'Honey Barbara' are creative and colorful. This movie makes you laugh and cry and shudder with deep feelings!! My favorite all around film of all time. Deep and Funny!!
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10/10
Fantastic movie. Very contemplative.
the-hfo3 December 2007
The plot summary is fine but does not do this movie justice. Please read the novel: Bliss. This is one of the very few movies that are as good as the novel. Of course, the movie is not the same as the novel. It is a very good adaptation but they should not be considered on par with each other. For instance, the movie Dune was a great movie and a great adaptation of the novel, but, no movie could ever approach the this novel. Bliss is on this level. Especially if you are a hippy (wanna be) like me. The emotions and perceptions and impressions and intentions and so on are beautifully transcribed to the motion picture medium. This is art. Watch the movie. Read the book. Don't compare them. Enjoy both of them.
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Unique
allanjeffreys-943-70349028 October 2011
I was just killing time and ended up spotting the link to Bliss. If I am asked what is my favorite movie I always say bliss. I could not believe that so few people have reviewed this masterpiece. This isn't a movie for everyone some of it is quite dark in nature but the characterizations are brilliant. Even though I hadn't seen the movie for many years when I saw that it was going to be shown television a few years back I realized before I saw it again that I knew Harry Joy told stories I remembered most of the plot but just couldn't wait to see it again.

If you like your movies a bit different this is really different and well worth a try if your adventurous.

Other movies I like include Babel Das Boot, Dr Strangelove, V, American Beauty, Being John Malkovich, Bad Santa.
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9/10
Misconception
westhamu13 June 2006
I lived in Lismore when this film came out and each week the local picture show had 'art' films on a Sunday arvo through night. Being arbitrarily schooled in film, to some extent, by a few of the local hippies I was not averse to 'art' films but for some reason this film came across as more arty-farty than most (reviews, AFI awards, Faustian premise) whilst the overtly religious hooded lady with the cross promotional posters also bode ill. So I stayed away. In 2001 Lantana was released and although the Dickensian coincidences are a tad over the top it still rates as one of my favourite films. But I still had an aversion to Ray Lawrence's first 'arty' film. I'm also eagerly awaiting Jindabyne not least because I think the Australian high country lends a different and preferable filming perspective than the one-dimensional Opera House/Harbour Bridge 'Tourism promo while we're at it' feel of a lot of bad Aussie films. But to the nub. The local video shop had a rare sale and I picked up the double-disc Director's Cut for $8. What a revelation! On this post there are stories of people walking out on this film when first released. I can't believe that. They must have walked out from places where independent films are screened so what did they expect? I loved this film. Sure, it's heavy handed in parts but it's completely and utterly not what I expected.
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Pretentious and enervating
I know my views seem to be running counter to the general trend on this film, however that's exactly the spirit in which Bliss was created 19 years ago. The difficulty is that Lawrence has gone so exuberantly for the 'shock' technique that the point and plot is all but obscured beneath the contrived quirkiness. We have sibling fellatio, fascist/sadistic sexual references, nudity, a relentlessly 'offbeat' gallery of characters and a general all-out drive to destroy sacred cows that is so single-minded that one can almost hear the boxes being ticked. At the first screening I recall my friend and I, both unshockable, rolling our eyes in embarrassment at this aspect of the film. It seemed a bit like being beaten repeatedly over the head by a hippie wielding a set of beads.

Almost twenty years on, the 'groundbreaking' aspects of Bliss seem tame and quaint, rather like the first episodes of 'Last of the Australians' in which Alwyn Kurts uttered the word 'bastard' on prime time sitcom television. So too, the attention seeking camera-work and 'innovative' narrative treatment strike this viewer as lethargic and unremarkable. The film has been described as 'lauded' but it is worthy of note that at the time it was a box-office disaster, and the industry in general deigned to provide Ray Lawrence with sufficient funds to make another feature until sixteen years later. I know (indeed expect) that many film fans will violently disagree with me, but I welcome (civilised) dissent. Bliss has failed to enhance its reputation with the passing years, but then again I am still of the opinion that Jackson Pollock's paintings are rubbish, and expect to find myself bailed up by the 'cognoscenti' on the cocktail party circuit..
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8/10
Aussie films won't come more unique and weird as this, an uniqueness that I love
It's highly likely you'll experience anything more original or far out, as Bliss, a sort of quiet cult classic, that you can't help loving. The actors are terrific in the sort of imaginative and real characters they bring to the screen, in this sort of delusional/dreamlike/satiric movie, full of some great moments, the funniest of course is the elephant parking it's butt on Harry Joy's Volkswagon. He then gets pulled over on a bridge, where he's having to tell his ludicrous story to the police, not very sympathetic to his misfortune. This film gets away with some nice full frontal nudity by a brazen Sue Jones, as Honey Barbara, a call girl, involved in selling drugs, who involves herself with Harry, sexually. She even stays with him in his Wives big beautiful Sydney House. His wife and him work in advertising, where the theme of petrol fumes being discharged into the air, and it's dangerous lasting affects is strongly brought up, was a interesting sideline, bringing some interesting facts with it. The wife's departure, overwhelmed by guilt and a horrid realization was a shocking moment, among some others in this high M rated film. A most bizarre scene that would go do in the annals of Aussie film, was the two little schoolboys at the ginger toffee factory, brought to this woman's office, as misbehaving. There are a scenes, weird and uniquely unforgettable. The Sister going down on the intellectual brother, for some dope, while he's in Nazi ware, and smoking a pipe was another confrontational scene. Bliss is not for all film types, more so the connoisseur but it's originally is what sells it. You can't think Bliss, without thinking Barry Otto. He makes the film his, in a wonderful performance, you can not help liking the character. If there were more people like Harry, the world be a better and safer place I'm sure. It kind of goes off path in the last ten to fifteen minutes, with Harry trying to win back Honey Barbara. But still it's retains it's uniqueness. But too a real important lesson, is illustrated here. Forgiveness.
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10/10
An Advertiser's Journey To Hell (And Back?)
toastedslipers30 July 2015
I'm one of those people who asks a lot of my entertainment media and I don't often become seriously engaged with them, but every once in a while an opportunity presents itself and I become engrossed. Bliss is one of those movies. One of the things that I often say is that "there is always a good story in a movie and it's up to the director as to whether or not it's told bad or good". Bliss' story is not a particularly complex one, but it's told well, exceptional well. It focuses on a man named Harry Joy, an advertising agent who's celebrating his birthday, who out of the blue has a heart attack. When he's eventually revived, he becomes an entirely different person, believing his immediate family to be sinister mimics after a grim afterlife encounter which Harry believes to have been "hell".

Thereafter he seeks redemption by undoing everything wrong that is within his control and meets Honey Barbra, a granola street walker who lives in the sticks and adores fresh honey. Harry and Honey Barbra later fall in love and I think that's about as much the movie as I can discuss without delving too heavily into spoilers.

Bliss is just that, a Blissful movie-going experience that deserves far more attention than it gets as an "Ozploitation" film
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10/10
One of the Best
slaytonsl22 April 2019
I cannot explain why "Bliss" struck such a chord. But it did. Others of my favorite movies are ordinary choices: Sense and Sensibility; Defiance; Godfather 1-3; Nanny McPhee; Gallipoli; Breaker Morant; Off the Map; Earth Girls Are Easy; Amazing Grace; Letters from Iwo Jima.

"Bliss" is not ordinary. But unlike movies such as "The Seventh Seal," it doesn't try too hard to be "art."

Give it a shot. You might like it. I sure did.
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Another 10BA scheme cinematic abortion
gut-62 September 2004
You can always tell when a film has been made primarily for the purposes of obtaining a film-making tax concession. They always look like "Bliss". They have quirky characters, unrelated scenes introduced at random for ostensible shock value, no discernible plot and a profoundly soporific effect upon the audience. It goes without saying that they are extremely pretentious and they bomb at the box office. But the most annoying thing about the tax-thieving luvvies who make these sorts of films is that many of them have no sense of humour, yet lack the self-understanding to appreciate this fact, and attempt to introduce humour into their films regardless.

In short, if you want to see a prime example of why films should be subject to punitive taxes rather than subsidies, I cannot recommend "Bliss" highly enough.
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