Review: Jindabyne (2006)

Director: Ray Lawrence

***

The opening of Jindabyne comes with a warning, as do many Australian films and TV programmes, to Aboriginal audiences that it contains images and/or references to recently-deceased persons (cast member Kevin Smith died after filming). It is fitting that this warning comes with Jindabyne as it deals with the ever-sensitive issue of race relations and, in particular, our potential for insensitivity towards others. When Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) and three friends Carl, Rocco and Billy (John Howard, Stelios Yiakmis and Simon Stone) find a young Aboriginal woman’s (Tatea Reilly) body at the start of a fishing trip, they decide not to report their find until they return from their weekend away. Their decision is heavily criticised by the girl’s family, the media and their own families. Stewart’s wife Claire (Laura Linney) takes it particularly badly, and struggles with the accompanying guilt whilst her husband feels no such qualms.

If director Ray Lawrence’s last film, the masterful Lantana, was an Altman-esque ensemble piece, Jindabyne is closer to David Lynch in its themes. The driving force behind the film is that most Lynchian of themes, namely suburban pretense giving way to a sordid and disturbing reality underneath. The finding of the body is as bizarre as Jeffrey Beaumont finding the severed ear in Blue Velvet, whilst the crumbling relationships of the denizens of suburbia is none more ‘Twin Peaks’. However, this does mean that a lot of plot lines are built up around the discovery of the body (it’s not discovered until nearly an hour into the film), and their overall relevance is debatable. For example, Carl and his wife Jude (Deborra-Lee Furness) are raising their granddaughter (Eva Lazzaro), who has severe emotional issues. Then there’s Stewart and Claire’s impressionable young son (Sean-Rees Wemyss). There are also character arcs for Rocco, Billy and the killer (Chris Haywood) whose actions set the plot in motion. Based on Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water So Close To Home”, Beatrix Christian’s script adds a lot of character development onto the plot, but some of of it does seem surplus to requirements. That said, it all ends very satisfyingly and draws great performances from its cast, with Linney and Byrne in particular in fine form. These characters all seem lost, flawed and above all, real; a grounding in reality overcomes their superfluousness.

Jindabyne is a haunting film, due in no part to David Williamson’s absolutely beautiful cinematography. It’s a stunning film to look at, with Australia’s wide natural vistas being both welcoming and foreboding simultaneously. The enticing visuals help director Lawrence walk a thin line between fierce drama, intense character study and creepy thriller (the opening cat-and-mouse pursuit, for example). For the most part, these disparate elements sit well together. There’s little respite from the downbeat tone, but there’s no faulting Jindabyne’s atmospherics or beauty.

Some critics question what an Irish man and his American wife are doing living in the Australian south-east. However, the heavily-accented Byrne and Linney remind us what Jindabyne is about. It’s about people struggling to fit in to their surroundings, including fitting in with the local people. Jindabyne is a well-intentioned film, well-acted and well-made.

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