For this unique cinematic event, a winning collaboration between some of Australia’s most talented directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, actors and designers, Tim Winton’s beloved collection of individual short stories have been brought to the big screen in one of our industry’s most ambitious projects – seventeen shorts, each with a different filmmaker at the helm. The stories in The Turning feature moments of emotional enlightenment, deal with the impact of the past and present colliding and one how one shapes the other and features serious recurring themes of addiction, obsession, regret, identity and youthful anxiety. As a whole it is a collection of fascinatingly linked, yet individually powerful, emotive and visceral Australian stories that paint a portrait of the Australian experience, with predominant focus on the lower class and beach culture, infusing natural elements like fire and water with flawed characters dealing with personal demons and moral quandaries.
The standout chapters certainly leave an impression. Callan Mulvey stars in Aquifer (directed by Robert Connolly) - the embodiment of The Turning’s most potent themes - in which he plays a high school music teacher who is reminded of a secret from his past when he learns of a story on the news. The way the past and the present are entwined in the editing, and the fact that Mulvey’s mysterious motivations aren’t revealed for some time, give this one a tense edge.
I also really liked Small Mercies (Rhys Graham), a moving portrait of a man who moves back to his hometown with his son in the wake of his wife’s death. His ex-girlfriend, a recovering drug addict, reaches out to him as he is trying to settle into his new life, which causes him undesired stress. The Turning (Claire McCarthy) features perhaps the strongest performance, delivered by an unrecognisable Rose Byrne. She is an abused young mother living in a trailer park who contemplates becoming a born-again Christian. Family (Shaun Gladwell) was very interesting; a young AFL star quits the sport mid game, and finds himself confronting not only his fears, but a tumultuous relationship with his brother, in the roaring surf.
Following the break – oh yeah, there’s an interval to stock up on snacks and drinks – the highlights came in a row. While there are only a couple of laughs throughout, Reunion (Simon Stone), which stars Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh and is made up of only three lengthy takes, is responsible for these. Commision (David Wenham) again addresses a relationship between a father and a son along with the reasoning behind one man’s desertion and the news that repairs a broken family. In Fog (Jonathan auf der Heide), my favourite of the films, a policeman is under pressure to turn a blind eye on corruption but finds his conscience clouded as he searches for a missing hiker within a thick fog. In these three the big stars – Blanchett and Robyn Nevin, Hugo Weaving and Dean Daley Jones - all deliver.
Some of the weaker chapters – Boner McPharlin’s Moll and Immunity – stand out because they are jarringly different from the rest and weren’t particularly interesting. The documentary approach of the former, which involved people reminiscing about an eccentric local character, and the bodies-in-motion choreography of the latter don’t fit in well. I can only imagine they have all been ordered as they have because that’s how they appear in Winton’s book.
The photography is superb throughout – with the work in Fog and Family especially standing out for me. The films are a blend of visceral experiences – little dialogue or plot with more reliance on voice-over, image and soundtrack – and narrative-driven storytelling. The unique approach by each filmmaker to the stories they tackle means that recurring characters aren’t in common with cast and locations aren’t concretely set. The ties between the stories aren’t always easy to decipher, which is what makes the beautiful colour-illustrated program that viewers are given as part of their ticket purchase so important in enhancing one’s appreciation.
On just sixteen screens, The Turning has opened enormously with a $13, 472 screen average over the course of the opening weekend. The screening season has just been extended for another week too, so be sure to make the effort to catch this impressive collaboration of Australia’s talented industry professionals, and see how the rich, interpretive work of Tim Winton has been brought to the screen.
[rating=3] and a half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.