Dir: Ray Lawrence. Australia. 2006. 123 minsIn a time of uncertainty or crisis, the only things you can cling on to are personal integrity and a sense of community. That is the hard lesson learnt by the residents of Jindabyne in director Ray Lawrence's haunting companion piece to his award-winning comeback feature Lantana (2001).

Like Lantana there is a dead body, a killer and a mystery that could easily be the basis of a Wolf Creek-style chiller. Lawrence sets aside the pursuit of obvious genre elements for a rewarding, character-based exploration of moral fibre, faith and fortitude that could be read as another response to a post 9/11 world.

Aimed at grown-up audiences, the film's accomplished ensemble cast and thoughtful approach should readily engage the same sophisticated crowd as Lantana.

Based on a Raymond Carver story that formed part of Short Cuts (1993), Jindabyne depicts a place where everyone is haunted by the past. The old town of that name now lies under water and the new town has been built on higher ground. The natural light creates piercing blue skies and the vastness of the area lends it some of the eerie, enigmatic qualities that made Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) such a landmark of Australian cinema.

One weekend, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) and three friends head to the high country for their annual fishing trip. Stewart discovers the body of a young girl floating in the water. Rather than immediately reporting the discovery, the men decide to carry on fishing and enjoy their weekend. The decision ultimately provokes outrage in the local community and prompts Stewart's wife Claire (Laura Linney) to question the entire basis of their marriage. Her instinctive reaction to the situation is compassion. Stewart's reaction is a gruff indifference: he simply cannot understand why there is such a fuss.

Part of the pleasure of Jindabyne is the way that Beatrix Christian's screenplay brings each of the characters into sharp focus. It would be easy to condemn Stewart's callousness or the pig-headed denials of his fishing buddy Carl (John Howard). We may not admire what they do but we understand who they are.

Claire is heroic in her efforts to heal the community and make everyone accept their personal responsibility for the situation that develops. We know that her concern may also result from a lingering sense of guilt that she abandoned her own son when he was born and failed to do the right thing. Everyone has their reasons in Jindabyne and everyone has a past to overcome.

Elegant in its precision and fluidity, Jindbayne has some stunning performances from a flawless cast. Once again Gabriel Byrne's innate charm is used to work against the grain of a character and create sympathy for a flawed figure. Sean Rees-Wemyss is a wonderfully natural, unspoilt child actor who brings an aching truth to Stewart and Claire's son Tom. We almost take it for granted that Laura Linney will give a fine performance but every thought and feeling her character has seems to be revealed with unmistakable clarity through the raging in her eyes, the tension in her body or the cold fury in her voice. It is a great performance in a film that could well earn Lawrence a further collection of international awards.

Beatrix Christian based on the story So Much Water So Close To Home by Raymond Carver

Production company
April Films

International sales
Celluloid Dreams

Catherine Jarman

Executive Producers
Philippa Bateman
Garry Charny

David Williamson

Prod des
Margot Wilson

Karl Sodersten

Paul Kelly
Dan Luscombe

Main cast
Laura Linney
Gabriel Byrne
Deborra-lee Furness
John Howard
Leah Purcell
Stelios Yiakmis