Dir: Clara Law. Australia. 2000. 120 mins.
Prod co: Still Life Pictures. Co-prod: Trix Films. Backers: Australian Film Finance Corporation. Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales (31) 20 627 3215. Prods: Peter Sainsbury, Eddie L.C. Fong. Scr: Eddie L.C. Fong, Clara Law. DoP: Dion Beebe. Editor: Kate Williams. Prod des: Nicholas McCallum. Music: Jen Anderson. Main cast: Rose Byrne, Rikiya Kurokawa, Nicholas Hope, Elise McCredie.
The only Australian film in competition at Venice this year is a curious mix of road movie and child-abuse melodrama. The best thing about the film is its stylish appearance (a constant in the work of Macao-born director Clara Law), influenced by contemporary video art, photography, painting, Japanese design and TV advertising.
Its major weakness is pacing and plot structure: the former too often sluggish, the latter so dense a weave of flashback over three generations that character identification becomes confusing. The film is strong enough to make a thorough tour of the European, American and Asian arthouse circuit, but is unlikely to break into the mainstream, even in Australia.
The Goddess of the title is the Citroen DS - pronounced "deesse" (goddess) in French. A young Japanese man, JM (played by Prada model Rikiya Kurokawa) embarks on a five-day journey into the outback with a crimson-haired blind girl, BG, played by Rose Byrne, winner of the Best Actress award (Coupe Volpi) at Venice last week.
BG is off to kill her grandfather, a miner who abused first her mother and then her. JM's reason for traversing those great desert sunsets is equally compelling: he wants to buy the car. Along the way, JM gets bitten by a lizard; he teaches BG to dance; and they sort of fall in love.
The whole story is interspersed with flashbacks to life with momma and grandpops (once again, Australian film stands up for old-fashioned family values) - a world of godforsaken trailers, an unforgiving landscape scored by ugly mine workings, and a hefty Catholic guilt complex.
The collaboration of the director and DoP Dion Beebe has produced some stunning visuals: bleach-bypass film, back-projection, ad-style captioning (used to relate the history of the Citroen DS) and a carefully-controlled chromatic scale are all used to good effect. But in the end, the director's love affair with colour and her neglect of coherent plot structure risks overwhelming the viewer.