Monday, February 19, 2007

Jindabyne (Lawrence, 2006)

Four men in a small Australian town set out on an annual fishing trip. They arrive in a beautiful, peaceful location far out in the wilderness. “No women allowed,” says one, reinforcing the idea that the spot is, for them, a kind of sanctuary. This tranquility is quickly interrupted when they discover a dead body floating in the river. With the actions they take next, the four men set themselves up to be pariahs in their own community and change the way that their loved ones view and understand them.

Working from a short story by Raymond Carver (whose work also served as the basis for Robert Altman’s Short Cuts), director Ray Lawrence has assembled a quality cast (including Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne) to tell his grief-soaked morality tale. Upon returning home, the men find that most of their fellow citizens are appalled that they continued to fish on through the weekend rather than report the body immediately. Because the victim is a young girl with dark skin and the fishing group’s leader, Stewart, is an Irish immigrant, tensions explode as the victim’s family accuses the men of not just negligence, but racism.

The disconnect that Stewart feels from the Australian community is further complicated by the way that his Catholicism conflicts with the beliefs held by many of the locals. Stewart’s contention is straightforward: the girl was dead and beyond help. Under those circumstances, what is the difference between Friday and Sunday? In fact, we do see Stewart deeply saddened upon discovering the body and therefore do not think him to be simply emotionally callous. However, many believe that the location in the wilderness near where the men were fishing is a path for spirits to travel on their way to … wherever … and thus Stewart’s actions have caused some kind of supernatural interruption.

What’s good about Lawrence’s film is the way it examines how we can be insensitive to the tragedies of others, particularly when it threatens to interrupt those things that we find pleasurable. Sorrow, it is suggested, is simply not enough unless it leads to action. Unfortunately, the film’s captivating middle section is bookended by tedious exposition and a third act bogged down by dopey spirituality and empty histrionics. Basically, it’s yet another film playing at ‘secrets and lies’, with an inciting incident opening up old wounds and long-held prejudices. Fans of Linney and Byrne may want to check it out to see the two trading vicious barbs; but chances are, you’ve seen this kind of thing before and you’ve seen it done better. Jindabyne’s only exceptional quality is a haunting score that relies heavily on human wailing. Beyond that, your experience with the film will largely depend upon your tolerance for touchy-feely ideas about the afterlife and overblown scenes of familial nastiness.



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