(04/06/07) – Adapted from Raymond Carver’s short story ‘So Much Water, So Close To Home’, Jindabyne showcases Ray Lawrence’s ability to deliver brilliant films about the complexity of adult relationships. Arriving five years after Lawrence’s critically acclaimed Lantana, Jindabyne sets out to disprove that Australia is merely the land of camp or cultural comedies, and in fact has a film history of strange human behaviour interacting with a unique landscape that goes back to Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975).
While it is common to see such well-directed adult drama appear in European and World Cinema, it is a rarity in commercially viable English language films. At present Hollywood and even independent films feel the need for plot twist, comedy or quirkiness to explore human relationships.
Ray Lawrence and screenwriter Beatrix Christian managed to stay faithful to the central themes in Carver’s story. Aided by perfect performances from Gabriel Byrne, as Stewart Kane, and Laura Linney, as his increasingly estranged wife, Claire, the film captures the complex web of the communication between a husband and wife, crucially at the point where the fabric of trust is wearing thin. The story is of a wife’s study of her husband’s actions following the decision, by his fishing buddies and him, to delay the reporting of a dead female body, which they find floating near their fishing spot. Claire, through her disbelief at the lack of respect and aid shown to the dead girl, is repulsed by her husband’s view that the dead girl was beyond help and was nothing but dead.
Trust is a central key to the story, as is intrusion. When the trust breaks down, seemingly innocent interaction carries the threat of intrusion. Things from the past which have been ‘forgiven and forgotten’ appear to rise up from their hidden places; tugging at old wounds threatens to create new wounds. The film subtly manages to weave obvious metaphors into genuine fears and responses to delicate situations. The sense of how women and men communicate differently is one of the strongest points in the film. The line from Stewart to his son, that "there are no bad men here", is aimed less at allaying his child’s fears of a potential serial killer or bogeyman on the loose, than at convincing his wife that he himself is innocent of the crimes she imagines.
The plot develops when the body is identified as an Aboriginal girl from a nearby town. The films enters a world of personal and cultural confusion, reprisals, and an awkward search for atonement, from Claire, for the actions of the fishermen. In some ways this exploration over-eggs the pudding but it raises very valid issues and, in a filmic sense, Claire’s attempts to seek understanding mirror Stewart’s plea for her understanding. They also echo one of Carver’s other essential stories, ‘A Small, Good Thing’.
This is brilliantly crafted drama and we can only hope that it is not another five years before the next Ray Lawrence film. Take a trip to the cinema and bathe in the murky world of Jindabyne.
Jindabyne is playing in UK cinemas now.