Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Australia, 2011. Paper Bark Films Pty. Ltd.. Screenplay by Judy Morris, based on the novel by Patricia White. Cinematography by Ian Baker. Produced by Gregory Read, Antony Waddington. Music by Paul Grabowsky. Production Design by Melinda Doring. Costume Design by Alban Farrawell. Film Editing by Kate Williams. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
Geoffrey Rush is an aging actor still playing the bed-hopping cad, and his sister Judy Davis is an impoverished princess abandoned by her prince husband. Their mother Charlotte Rampling lies languishing in bed in her mansion in Sydney and her children come home to visit for what they expect to be her final days; they’re also hoping it will be a lucrative trip considering that they stand to inherit quite a fortune when she pops her clogs. Getting to know this complicated matriarch better, we realize that we cannot really blame her children for being so callous; given that she tells her son she never sees his performances for fear that he will be terrible, or that she has in the past taken men away from her daughter, it’s quite possible she was never exactly the model of docile motherhood worth grieving over. On the other hand, she also seems to have gotten more out of life than they have, in their frightened and pent-up ways, and even now in her dementia, bedridden and relegated to getting her German maid to dress up and perform cabaret numbers for her, is possibly enjoying life more than her children. This adaptation of the novel by Patrick White features no end of subtle character quirks and interesting turns of plot, including sideline stories involving domestic staff who get involved in the lives of their employers. Davis is particularly excellent as (what else) the frustrated and neurotic daughter who cannot let her anger with her mother go, so why is this film so incredibly boring? Fred Schepisi paces it at a snail’s lope, possibly under the impression that his characters are a lot more sympathetic than they actually are; nobody here is interesting enough, and the plot works towards a reconciliation between estranged people whose coming together means absolutely nothing to the audience in the end. This makes it a chore to sit through, though the acting is particularly fine and, for a film that takes place in 1972, it does a better job of actually looking like the seventies than anything I have seen in a long time.