Friday, November 02, 2007

20:07 (Kamikaze Intervention Edition)

screenshots from the 20th minute and 7th second of a movie
I can't guarantee the same results at home (different players/timing) I use WinDVD

Kamikaze Intervention: So named because the dashing and charismatic Kamikaze Camel and I both have a vested interest in getting Nathaniel—and everyone—to see this movie, so that we don't spend the entire Best of the Year and FilmBitch seasons going, "But what about...???"

Claire (Laura Linney) and Jude (Deborra-Lee Furness) return from school, where Claire's son and Jude's granddaughter have just been arraigned for murdering a guinea pig, the class pet, as an improvised sacrifice. Claire is ashamed of her son's behavior, upset with him, and embarrassed not to have realized that her child brought a fishing knife to school. Jude, who frankly dislikes her own granddaughter—a stance critiqued but also justified by the film's portrayal of this wounded but histrionic girl—is all but ready to hand the girl over permanently to someone else. As usual, Jude's tempestuous expressions of attitude, which Furness serves up without ever over-playing, threaten to violate the local parameters of repression and avoidance.

But as so often, and in such a rich and subtle diversity of ways, Jindabyne—named after a drowned city in Australia—caps the bottle on its own incipient uprisings of unregulated emotion. As Jude calls out to her husband Carl (John Howard), "Your granddaughter's just done her first murder!", the film responds at 20:07 with a triply repressive agenda: a long, flat, distancing shot of Sam entering their house, which drains the intensity and intimacy of the preceding two-shot of Jude and Claire; Sam's metaphorically apt line "Toilet's plugged up again," evoking stoppage just as Jude's annoyance and impatience are threatening to overflow; and the editing choice to hold the shot on the house for a beat or two after Carl has already disappeared into it, shutting the door behind him, which tips the sequence into a concluding stress on sealing off instead of opening up, impenetrability instead of communication.

Jindabyne is full, certainly from scene to scene and virtually from shot to shot, of these understated but articulate edits, camera angles, and ironic juxtapositions that lend extraordinary depth and density to its story. Its narrative is derived from the same Raymond Carver short story ("So Much Water, So Close to Home," itself a corker) that inspired the plotline in Short Cuts where three men go fishing and somehow decide not to report the naked girl's body they find in the river until they've had their weekend of fun. It's been so long since I've seen Short Cuts that I can't comment too broadly on Altman's handling of the same material, but I do remember him hammering home some of the moral implications pretty bluntly—Huey Lewis, wasn't it, peeing in the river just upstream from the floating corpse? Jindabyne writer-director Ray Lawrence isn't innocent of his own clunky literalisms from time to time, and in this film as in his earlier Lantana, his penchants for interlocking coincidence and inchoate conclusions occasionally lead him to engineer too much and say too little. But Jindabyne is nonetheless an extraordinary and expansive drama, easily one of the year's best movies and exemplary in its editing, writing, acting, and cinematography.

Lawrence and director of photography David Williamson, who was the camera operator on Lantana, stick with natural lighting throughout the movie, but their super-widescreen framings are so rich and elegant that the film's casual grace at catching "natural" images and rhythms stands perpetually in the context of a clear, strong sense of how to focus the audience's attention and how to dissect the layers of implication embedded at every moment. The contrasts of imposing shadow and blinding overexposure are resonant and lifelike without feeling offhand, although they don't come across as strongly on DVD as they do in theater projection. The editing, meanwhile, is so supple and disciplined that entire backstories and psychological turns are often compressed into scenes of one or two shots, with incisive lines of dialogue that reduce the need for long speeches or extended conversations. Which isn't to say that the verbal showdowns and group conversations aren't among the year's best, thrilling in their precision and cutting emotional clarity: between Claire and her husband Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), or at the outset of a ladies' night shared by Claire, Jude, and their children's teacher Carmel (Leah Purcell), or between Claire and her manipulative but possibly well-meaning mother-in-law Vanessa (Betty Lucas), or at a restaurant party interrupted by incongruous guests, or between the whole community and the rising tide of furious critics after the men's callousness is exposed.

One of the many things Jindabyne is about is holding yourself publicly accountable, to lovers and friends and children and neighbors and even strangers, for the things you have done and the people you have been; at the same time, it's also about the narcissism and danger that can arise from making a public crisis into a personal cause. (I love the movie's sense of ironic reversal, and I love the serendipitous fact that the 20:07 image is all about denial and the 70:02 image, above, is all about gruesome revelation.) Australian movies, especially those with the kind of diverse cast and fascination with landscape that we see here, often work as allegories about the nation's geographic tension between the metropolitan and the barely explored, and also about the guilty history of anti-aboriginal racism. Jindabyne touches this raw nerve with forthrightness but also with delicacy, putting most American dramas about race and national consciousness to shame. Beyond the intricacy of the acting and the writing—and Laura Linney really must be singled out for her ornery, out-of-place, but nonetheless inviting Claire—I think Jindabyne's formal sense is largely to thank for its force and coherence. It's one of very few movies about repression that isn't itself overly repressed (again, with the possible exception of the ending), and it's one of very few multi-character dramas that has a genuine story to tell about the interrelations of people and communities, instead of just Babel-ing onward into platitudes and implausibility. The movie is held together with dreamlike dissolves, creepy zooms and digital push-ins, suspense sequences both great (the opening) and small (two lakeside scenes involving Claire's son), and well-judged shock effects of image and sound within the wider field of tact, patience, even-handedness, and keen observation. The film is morally complex without being obtuse about what constitutes good and bad behavior. And the very last shot is excitingly oblique: echoes of Psycho and worrisome implications about uncontained threats, but what exactly does that swat mean?

...And so, with this extended For Your Film Bitch Consideration ad, I sign off from my week of guest-blogging. Thanks to everyone for reading, and stop by my house, or my other house, whenever the mood strikes you!



you will be happy to know that this film coincidentally arrived in my mailbox yesterday. And Ten Canoes arrived the week before.

It's all about Glenn movies this next week apparently

Anonymous said...

This was great, too. It's currently hanging around 5 or 6 on my list right now, and I can't see anything pushing it out of the Top 10 by year's end.

Laura Linney was fantastic, and is pretty safe as my favorite turn by lead actress this year. I haven't seen The Savages yet, but if she matches herself there, I'm going to become a cheerleader for her Best Actress Oscar in a major way.

Anonymous said...

Now this is what I call an excellent and thorough review!

I'd say KCamel's enthusiasm for this movie is catching, I caught it in the theater just over a month ago, and went exclusively based on his vociferous recommendation (both here and in other places). And boy was I glad I did!

Good, insightful story. Beautiful scenery. And is always lovely to see such good actors as Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney in roles such as these! And that ending... scary!!!

J.D. said...

I felt a lot of mixed feelings towards this. But the performances were damn great, I'll say that.

Was I the only completely confused by the ending?

Jason Adams said...

Loved the ending. My favorite ending of a movie this year I think. I read it as, we've been expecting some sort of pay-off to the whole serial killer storyline, the way he keeps buzzing in and out of the story throughout the whole film, but the "swat" was the pay-off, it was the "punishment" he receives. Stung by a bee. The whole sense of who deserves what was upended.

Emma said...

Cool [pst/

J.D. said...

You see, that's why I sorta hated Caché (well, that and the fact that nothing happened). I just can't appreciate storylines almost without any sort of justice whatsoever, and with the added "bonus" of having both those films fade into nothingness quickly and confusingly (although Caché never really came out of it), I just sit there dumbstruck, saying "... What?" [shrugs]

Catherine said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Wonderful post. See, I had seen Jindabyne earlier this year and decided it was the best thing I'd seen in the cinemas for ages but thought I wouldn't be able to include it on an End Of Year list 'cause it's officially 2006. But now I think, screw it.

I loved this film. I went to see it with my mam and we were literally speechless all the way home. Laura Linney delivered a standout performance and Gabriel Byrne made me cry (when he was saying the prayer to St. Bridget - hearing Irish spoken on screen is always a pleasure for me).

Glenn Dunks said...

Dear Nick,

I thank you from the bottom of my movie-obsessed heart. Thank you.

Love, Glenn.


I really agree with everything you said Nick. Not much I can add. My favourite performace was Deborra-Lee Furness though. Just phenomenal.

Nat, two two best Aussie films in a long time and you get to watch them - perhaps - back to back? Lucky you! I hope you take these feverish FYCs into consideration.

As to the ending, I agree with Ja. It was like some comic karma. This ghastly act (who knows how many others) and as he lays in wait for his next victim... swat. Poetic justice.

It's great to see people loving a movie I've been championing since halfway through last year. When I saw it I knew it was going to be my #1. I could just tell. And, as y'all know, I've been harping on about it ever since.

Glenn Dunks said...

the two*

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

*minor spoiler*

It was a solid film, yes... up until that ending!! Not the stuff with the bee - the reconciliation stuff with that pop-idol performance. It was so crudely tacked-on, it contradicted the entire film.

And just the notion that someone turned a Raymond Carver story - the Carver who spent his life starkly pointing out the impossibility of absolute reconciliation - into an ultimately schmaltzy story of absolute reconciliation...

That said, Laura Linney was/is sensational and the first four-fifths of Jindabyne were infinitely more compelling and intelligently crafted than Ten Canoes, which bored me shitless.

Anonymous said...

nathaniel, what did you think of ten canoes

Anonymous said...

will any actress ever deliver in 5 minutes what beatrice straight did in network i am always waiting for someone who does that with 10 mins or less screen time.


Catherine you should go by release dates as the Academy does. Yes, Jindabyne started its world tour in 2006 but if you live in the states it's a 2007 movie all the way

MichaelMcl said...

I saw this in August last year... and haven't seen it since. My memory of it was:

- (i) strong acting, particularly from Linney and Byrne;

- (ii) a really great short story got saddled with an epic cast of character issues that just broke its back;

- (iii) I would have appreciated the racial subtext a bit more if it hadn't been so 'on the nose'...

- (iv) the indulgent ending scene, with a character singing a song, caps off one of the worst emotional resolution scenes I've seen in an otherwise strong film with... something that just managed to be worse! Earlier in that scene, I couldn't repress a chuckle as the whole group of families walked into the funeral scene at the end... would have been better if Linney had been there on her own. The sight of them all appearing is a bit much.

- (v) I like the actual ending that follows, as I see many here do. The opening scene is strong as well.

- (vi) I find it a little hard to buy into some of the tenser sequences, when they take place on roads I'm quite familiar with. I used to go to Jindabyne once a year when I was child.

- (vii) the whole 'demon seed' girl thing was silly... particularly in the scene at the lake where the boy starts struggling (I've swum there too!);

- (viii) the music... as is common for the films of my countrymen... almost completely and utterly sucked. We must be the only country in the world whose film-makers, blessed with an array of composers not getting concert hall commissions and available for film work, invariably make the choice to blend music by sound designers (those humming pulses) with instrumental music by pop artists. It sometimes works (The Proposition), but frequently, as in the case of Jindabyne, doesn't match the best international work. (Those vocals in Jindabyne... youch, my ears still hurt.)

- The Jindabyne-ambivalent Winterbottom-loving Australia

tim r said...

Great post. I loved the movie for all the reasons you list, Nick, and that last shot is one of them, but I have to agree with Goran about the dénouement -- the big apology scene. It seemed an unnecessarily crude way of resolving a whole lot of issues, and I thought the movie was so much smarter when it was backing away from that. I'm big on endings, as you know, and I think that sequence is going to cost it inclusion in my top ten -- a damaging clunker in an otherwise smashing and subtle piece of work.

Catherine said...

Awesome. If I go by Irish release date, that means I also get to include INLAND EMPIRE, which we only got in February. Oh yes, I finally saw it.

Glenn Dunks said...

You can hardly penalise a film for having scenes on a road (!) that you have driven on before.

I agree to a point that the funeral sequence is a bit... silly. But I found that the film had built up so much good will with me that I forgave it. Besides, that song (sung by Ursula Yovich) is beautiful. I really liked the music in the film though in general (I have the soundtrack).

Nick mentioned the creepy zooms and when you mix those with the loud soundtrack it just added a sense of forboding that I really liked.


I just watched this so I'm still processing ...but Nick, I love what you wrote about the 20:07 vs 70:02 image. I wouldn't have been able to articulate it the way you did but from your savvy eye that's a mirror nearly as interesting as the double set from A History of Violence

Glenn Dunks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn Dunks said...

aaah! "TBA" just won't do.

MichaelMcl said...

I don't begrudge JINDABYNE filming on roads I'm familiar with... believe me, that was one minor disconcerting element. (And let me emphasize the word 'minor'.)

"I agree to a point that the funeral sequence is a bit... silly. But I found that the film had built up so much good will with me that I forgave it. Besides, that song (sung by Ursula Yovich) is beautiful. I really liked the music in the film though in general (I have the soundtrack). "

I find I can forgive a film many things, but a bad ending just leaves such a sour taste in the mouth. JINDABYNE had been losing me in the last twenty-thirty minutes (boy, when the subtext comes to the surface, it sweeps everything away in its path!). But a lousy ending always makes me wonder whether the film-makers got anything right...

The best comparison would be with CACHE - imagine if that film ended with a chase scene where Auteil discovers the person spying on him (in this version, we'll say it's the son, who is a member of an Algerian terrorist organisation), pursues him across Paris, dispatches him in brutal physical conflict in defence of his family, and has a happy ending.

"Nick mentioned the creepy zooms and when you mix those with the loud soundtrack it just added a sense of forboding that I really liked"

Yeah, well a subtle sense of forboding it ain't! ;) (And maybe 'forboding' is the wrong feel for this story, when apathy is the issue, even in the expanded narrative.

Glenn Dunks said...

Well Lawrence was recreating that whole myth of the land idea with all the zooms and the sounds. The idea that the Australian landscape is full of mystery and is, in part, responsible for some of the terrible stuff that happens. Loved the juxtaposition of shots where one second we're focusing on beautiful scenery and then on manmade telephone lines.

I didn't think the end was terrible so it was easier for me to forgive it's slight (in my eyes) misstep.