Dir: Neil Armfield. Australia.2006. 108mins
Alternately dazzling andflashy, affecting and mannered, this impressive debut from feted Australiantheatre director Neil Armfield is lifted to the verge of excellence byoutstanding performances from Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish as a pair ofheroin addicts in love.
If it doesn't quite scalethe final peak, it's because there's a slight gloss of prettiness which acts asa fire escape from the film's emotional intensity.
Ledger's bankability willboost the prospects of this intense romantic drama and, despite its downbeatsubject matter, it should play well across a swathe of territories in thatbroad niche at the commercial end of arthouse.
Dan and Candy are introducedwith little background information: they are in love, living in a dingy bedsitin some cheap suburb, and Candy is just about to take the leap from sniffingheroin to injecting. Candy, who dabbles in painting, is young and impulsive,but she also has initiative: it's she who makes the decision to start sellingher body when the money runs short.
Dan, an aspiring poet, canonly look on in pained paralysis.
Ledger plays Dan as aworkshy gentle giant, a man whose idea of paradise is to drift off into thebliss of morphine with his best girl by his side.
Cornish, good at conveyingemotion with just her facial muscles, gives a wired, intense performance asCandy, a little girl in a woman's body, trying to act tough and hold thingstogether until she is finally pushed over the edge.
Geoffrey Rush plays Casper,a gay chemistry professor and fellow addict who is the young couple's confidantand financial saviour in times of need.
Though he has a place in thefilm's emotional structure, the character doesn't quite succeed cinematically. Moresuccessful are Candy's weak father (Martin) and hyper-critical mother(Hazlehurst), who feature in two of the films' most dramatically incisivescenes.
Like Requiem for a Dream, Candy shows how addictioncan ruin lives, but there's a refreshing lack of moralising in its approach.
Armfield has awell-developed visual imagination - memorable scenes feature Dan watchingTarkovsky on telly with a blanket over his head so as not to distrub Candy, andCandy watching honey drip onto the carpet in voluptuous folds.
Sherman Pictures (Aus)
Fortissimo Films (31) 20 6273215
Luke Davies, based onDavies' novel