Dir: Stavros Kazantzidis. Australia. 2001. 90 mins.
This ambling, soft-edged romantic comedy is due to receive a New York premiere on June 15, only days after its local debut, which saw it take $8,929 off 10 screens in five days - which says much for Beyond Films' enthusiastic sales muscle and for a perceived US interest in quirky Australian film humour (The Dish, Muriel's Wedding etc). But a micro budget and a joke-free script make Russian Doll an unlikely candidate to continue the Aussie raid on international box offices.
After lengthy character introductions, a promising situation is established whereby wealthy married publisher Ethan (Wenham) bribes his neurotically despairing writer friend Harvey (Weaving) to marry his gorgeous young Russian mistress Katia (Novikova). In a variation on the Green Card premise, this marriage of convenience will bring Katia Australian citizenship and continuing lustful access to the oily Ethan.
Katia moves into Harvey's cramped Bondi Beach flat, plays music loudly, breaks plates, smokes cigars, wears red underwear and distracts the boring Harvey from finishing his detective novel; while the audience waits patiently for inevitable romance to stir and/or for a few laughs or witty exchanges along the way. The regrouping finally occurs in a redundant blaze of Australian-Russian-Jewish celebration, but the hoped-for wit proves elusive. An excellent cast (joined too late by Sacha Horler in a spirit-lifting man-eating cameo) brings energy and upbeat commitment to a listless script which surprisingly won this year's Australian Film Institute's award for Best Original Screenplay six months before the film's June release.
Russian Doll's "super low-budget" limitations are mostly disguised, although the washed-out colours do little justice to some striking Sydney locations, while Harvey's last-act trip to Moscow is absurdly unconvincing. Local interest will be stirred by the participation of Weaving (also credited as co-producer), Wenham and Horler: however, international audiences hoping for a further dish of Australian style and quirkiness may well be disappointed.
Prod cos Lot 47 Films, Australian Film Finance Corporation,
Aust dist Mushroom Pictures
Int'l sales Beyond Films
Producer Allanah Zitserman
Scr Kazantzidis, Zitserman
Cinematography Justin Brickle
Prod des Elizabeth Mary Moore
Ed Andrew MacNeil
Sound Peter Grace
Main cast Hugo Weaving, Natalia Novikova, David Wenham, Rebecca Frith,