Dir/scr: Cate Shortland.Australia. 2004. 106 mins
A haunting little story ofsex, guilt, love and all the confusion in between, Somersault marks aquietly impressive feature debut from writer-director Cate Shortland after astring of award-winning shorts. The interaction between a number of complex,interestingly developed characters is set against the unusual beauty of remoterural locations atmospherically captured in steely colours and compositions.
The overall effect isreminiscent of an American independent feature like Ruby In Paradise andwill inevitably prompt comparisons with Shortland's fellow Antipodean JaneCampion. It may prove a little too sluggish for some tastes but the overallimpact should ensure extensive festival exposure and arthouse sales for one ofseveral striking new talents that have come to the fore at this year's Cannes(the film played in Un Certain Regard).
Developed over a period ofseven years, the script for Somersaultbears the signs of something that has been carefully thought through andrefined. Each character has a voice of its own, a history and a sense of a lifebeyond the scenes in which they appear.
Just 16, Heidi (Cornish)seems to believe that the indiscriminate use of her sexuality is the best wayto discover who she is and what she wants. She is fully aware of her effect onmen and blatantly pushes it to see what kind of reactions she gets. When hermother walks in on an intimate moment between her boyfriend and Heidi, theteenager flees in guilt and shame.
She winds up at the snowresort town of Lake Jindabyne. Sex with a stranger sees her through the firstnight in town but an encounter with moody farmer's son Joe (Worthington) ismore deeply felt. She finds a job, settles down and wonders if she might havefound love with Joe.
He certainly seems to havefeelings for her but is reluctant to address them and finds that she merelyexacerbates his sense of discontent and his desire to seek a different lifefrom the one he currently has. "I don't think you know what you want," says onegay character sensibly rebuffing Joe's drunken advance.
Shortland observes all thedilemmas and separate journeys with an affectionate eye, counterpointing theuncertainties of youth with more worldly characters like motel owner Irene (Curran)who teaches Heidi about the possibilities of forgiveness. Both Heidi andJoe seem to emerge from their timetogether changed and enriched by it but also with a better understanding ofwhat they might want from life or a relationship.
Previously seen in TheMonkey's Mask, Abbie Cornish captures the complexities of Irene from herstrength to her fragility and makes us aware that there is still a good deal ofemotional immaturity shaping her sense of the world. The handsome Worthingtonalso walks the tightrope between Joe's instinctive self-protection andtentative attempts to open up to the world.
Their performances joinedwith the confidence of the direction and the textured work of experiencedcinematographer Robert Humphreys all lend distinctive qualities to Somersaultthat should help sell it to discerning audiences.
Prod co: Red Carpet Productions
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales
Exec prod: Jan Chapman
Prod des: Melinda Doring
Main cast: Abie Cornish, Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran, Erik Thomson, NathanielDean, Hollie Andrew