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TWO SEPTEMBER RELEASES FEATURE THE
ADVENTURES OF TWO YOUNG WOMEN.
BY BELINDA HAZELTON.
Directed by Cate Shortland
After a bitter incident with her mother, 16-year-old Heidi
(Abbie Cornish) leaves their home in Canberra and heads
south, towards the snowfields. Short on both skills and funds,
she finds it difficult to sur vive and resorts to casual sex and
menial work to at least ensure she has somewhere to sleep.
When she meets the son of a wealthy local farmer, Joe (Sam
Worthington) she learns the difference between sex and love.
Many films feature coming of age tales, but director/writer
Cate Shortland brings a satisfying freshness and honesty to
this, her first feature. Although it is essentially Heidi's story,
Shortland has developed a rich background of other, lesser
characters, such as Heidi's landlady Irene (Lynette Curran)
and Joe's neighbour, Richard (Erik Thomson). Irene takes
Heidi in and teaches her much about a mother's love, and
Richard, who is gay, shows Joe that there is more to life than
the bigotry and small mindedness of a country town. The
entire cast deliver strong, convincing performances. The
setting, around Jindabyne, plays a significant part in this film
and it is refreshing to see such a different view of Australia.
The pale lighting, the coldness of the winter climate and the
general lack of colour are all unusual in local productions, and
they cleverly ser ve to heighten the film's emotional aspects.
Similarly, the use of hand held cameras, which has been so
overdone in recent years, heightens the intimacy between the
characters and is very appropriate in Somersault. Selected to
screen at this year's Cannes film festival, the realism of
Somersault is sometimes quite confronting. It is also a
wonderful new film from a very talented young director.
Directed by Mira Nair
Even as a young girl, born into a poor family in the late 1700s,
Rebecca Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) knows she is intended for
greater things. Rebelling against her destiny, she launches
herself into worlds that should be outside her reach. Fresh from
Miss Pinkerton's Academy for young women, she takes a
position as governess for the eccentric Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob
Hoskins), at his country estate. She soon makes her way into
his household and becomes a favourite of all, especially Pitt's
son, Rawdon (James Purefoy), whom she secretly marries.
Moving to London, life is sociable and amusing, only to be
interrupted by war in Europe. Rawdon escapes death on the
battlefield, but after wards, sur vival is difficult and luxuries rare.
Rebecca is forced to look further afield for someone who can
satisfy her ruthless desire for acceptance and a place in society.
The screenplay for Vanity Fair was based on the classic novel
by William Makepeace Thackery, which has been described as
one of the most intelligent and witty critiques of early 19th
century English society. The project had a long gestation, and
Mira Nair was brought onto it in 2002, following the huge
success of her mar vellous film Monsoon Wedding. Like that
film, Vanity Fair is visually stunning. The filmmakers aimed to
create an "enjoyable feast for the eyes", and this has certainly
been achieved, yet not in an intrusive manner. The story is
central and it is a rollicking and entertaining tale! Given her
career to date, it was difficult to imagine Reese Witherspoon in
an English period role, but her success here is a great tribute
to her ability as an actor. Perhaps because so much about
Becky Sharp resonates for a modern audience, as a woman who
wants to be recognised on her own merits, regardless of her
origins or her fortune. Her character is frequently manipulative
and calculating, but Witherspoon manages to keep us on her
side, allowing a ready understanding of the forces that drive
her. This is an enjoyable and satisfying film, pitched at just the
right level. Recommended.
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