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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 17.65%
Average: 20.59%
Pretty Bad: 8.82%
Total Crap: 5.88%

2 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Goddess of 1967, The
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by Andrew Howe

"A postcard from a dark place"
3 stars

The Goddess of 1967 has garnered awards from several international film festivals, and it's not difficult to understand why: after a diet of soporific Russian tedium and detached German nihilism, its comparative accessibility will soothe the soul of many a glassy-eyed festival attendee. Unfortunately, its impenetrable characters and meandering narrative put the brakes on what little momentum it manages to achieve, leaving us with a measured, occasionally beautiful film that reads more like a stepping-stone to greatness than the masterwork its creators evidently intended it to be.

Since director Clara Law is obviously more concerned with the images and individual scenes than crafting a coherent whole, a plot summary is almost redundant. For what it's worth, it concerns a couple of pilgrims on the road less travelled: Deidre (Rose Byrne), a blind and much-abused female, and J.G. (Rikyia Kurokawa), a sensitive Japanese man whose interests include beautiful cars and grotesque reptiles. They saddle up and head into the Australian interior, and since this is an independent film we know that, while they're ostensibly looking for the owner of the finely-tuned automobile they've commandeered (the "Goddess" of the title), they're ultimately searching for something far less tangible.

In any good road movie, the journey's the thing: if it's not a voyage of self-discovery, we might as well pack up and go home. Deidre has a rather depressing story to tell, as it turns out, encompassing violence, rape, incest, suicide and assorted other atrocities (and this is without even considering the fact that she's never seen the light of day). Her shadowy past is revealed via several harrowing flashbacks, which even go so far as to depict her mother's dysfunctional childhood. J.G., on the other hand, doesn't appear to own a past worth mentioning, since he's only allocated a single flashback (the majority of which he spends slurping noodles), so his main function is to lend a rather bewildered ear to Deidre's increasingly bizarre requests.

The film's major stumbling-block is that, in true independent-filmmaker style, Law chooses to depict the characters as remote, clinical souls: while we are suitably shocked by Deidre's trials, it's difficult to become invested in her ultimate fate. Years of abuse have eroded whatever humanitarian instincts she may have once possessed, to the extent that she appears, at times, to be little more than a hollow shell. This may be realistic, but it's anathema to the creation of an involving work of fiction (I suspect Law may have read too many J.G. Ballard novels for her own good).

This should not be taken as a criticism of Byrne's performance, however: she's on the record as stating that she was displeased with her efforts, which suggests that she is indeed her own harshest critic. I can't vouch for the accuracy with which she captures the mannerisms of those who spend their days in darkness, but her intriguing (and occasionally touching) facial expressions possess the appearance of truth, and her vocal delivery is invested with an unnerving detachment that never gives us cause to doubt Deidre's status as a wanderer in an emotional wasteland.

J.G.'s perpetually pensive demeanour doesn't give Kurokawa much to work with, but he's occasionally afforded the opportunity to evoke some measure of emotion from the viewer (his sense of wonder on first viewing the Goddess is especially memorable). Unfortunately, his character's status as a cipher ensures that, by the journey's end, we are left with the impression that we've spent two long hours in the company of a stranger.

It's a testament to the perverse scripting (by Law and Eddie Ling-Ching Fong) that the bit players possess considerably more life than the protagonists. Deidre's grandfather is memorably portrayed by Nicholas Hope, whose astonishing performance in Bad Boy Bubby attests to the fact that he's an asset to any film, and Elise McCredie's efforts in the service of Marie, Deidre's mother, are as heart-rending as they are unsettling. Special mention must also go to the child actors, who are never less than convincing in the difficult roles of the young Deidre and Marie (I would hate to have to enlighten them as to the meaning of their less palatable lines).

While the film won't insinuate itself into your heart, it is by no means a failure. The cinematography is exquisite: it's largely shot outdoors, and every frame is infused with the ethereal beauty of the Australian countryside, from fields of green and mud-drenched backwaters to starlit bushland and the hard-baked earth of the outback. It's a series of breathtaking postcards, with the characters' concerns dwarfed by the majesty of land they're travelling through.

The film's other strength is that while the narrative may amount to little by the time the closing credits roll (the ending follows logically from the events which precede it, but it's more of a whimper than a bang, with little sense of the characters having experienced personal growth as a result of their experiences), it's packed with individually memorable scenes. Watching J.G. teach Deirdre to dance may not sound like a particularly involving exercise, but the grim environment and Deidre's unintentional impersonation of a marionette make it strangely compelling. Other unexpected treasures await the weary traveller, including a resonant reprise of the dance sequence featuring Deidre's grandfather and mother, an opening montage charting J.G.'s daily life, and the eventual fate of the moderately-unhinged Marie. At these junctures the film's disparate elements mesh like a well-oiled set of gears, and you may be surprised to find yourself revisiting key scenes for days afterwards.

All of which leads me to conclude that, if Law can rein in her excesses (a two-hour running time and a couple of scenes that extend well past their use-by date spring to mind) and devote a little more energy to not just drawing the viewer into her creation, but making sure they stay there, she may just find herself with the makings of a masterpiece. The Goddess of 1967 is not that film, for it's akin to a sketch that captures the underlying appeal of something truly beautiful, but its aspirations are not entirely unrealised - there are moments when, as the title suggests, it borders on the divine.

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originally posted: 05/09/01 22:39:53
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User Comments

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10/23/09 JXL65 I'm looking for all these wonderful safari based applications to go native for the iphone. 2 stars
10/22/09 Sad19 Because I am fluent in all languages when it comes to understanding things said about foods 3 stars
3/28/07 Sir Rodney Stiffington Another waste of money in the non existent aussie film industry. For Gawds sake people, you 1 stars
12/14/05 Anton Pfeiffer Brilliant, Perfect, I LOVED it 5 stars
12/13/05 Caiphn Great little film. 4 stars
5/22/05 Les+Kel Tedious arthouse wank 1 stars
11/06/04 Jeffrey Nice cinematic shots 4 stars
1/08/04 QNk. Love the Photography. If anyone here knows where can I buy it, tell me: ckronosz@hotmail 5 stars
5/27/03 mr. Pink Looks stunning, but it0s very hollow with an incredibly overblown third act. 2 stars
4/29/03 Little Amoeba Visually stunning 4 stars
3/09/03 Reiner outstanding movie. Hollywood could learn from it 5 stars
3/07/03 MG pretty 5 stars
3/07/03 Merdoch McCaslin Fantastic Film 5 stars
4/28/02 Elwin Bloom good composition 5 stars
1/10/02 anna mc.millan Great sound track! 5 stars
9/05/01 Juniper Stunning 5 stars
8/15/01 e awesome 5 stars
7/10/01 Thalia Check the photograph, and direction. Exceptional concept... pretty good acting of Byrne. 4 stars
5/02/01 Pierce Lanson Beautifully made, one VERY sexy bit, slightly complicated, but DIFFERENT. Rose is beautiful 4 stars
4/27/01 christine one of the best australian movies i've seen. superb storytelling and beautiful visuals. 5 stars
4/11/01 J.Arcane moody brooding artsy-fartsy. But Byrne's on fire. 2 stars
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  25-Apr-2001 (MA)

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