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Preservation (2003)
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Death and taxidermy"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Daphne (Jacqueline McKenzie) is a taxidermist, and she’s accepting a boarder into her home. Not that she bears any resemblance to Norman Bates in Psycho, who ran a hotel and stuffed animals as a hobby. Daphne is a professional and, like her father before her, firmly believes that a successful taxidermist’s work will fool you into believing that the subject is about to move. You see, like Norman, Daphne is also in the thrall of a dead parent. She regularly visits a medium, a spiritualist photographer named Crewe (Simon Burke), who keeps her in touch with her father’s wishes.

Daphne has recently advertised for a female tenant, but only Nick (Jack Finsterer from Strange Fits of Passion) responds. This labourer, with his heavy-lidded eyes and deep, husky voice, has the haunted look of a man with a secret. Daphne’s fiercely independent slicing and cutting and chopping and stabbing, and her casual talk about death, make Nick squeamish. But he sees through her self-sufficiency, and senses her loneliness.

Despite the frequent reminders of death, Preservation is a touching love story. It’s also frequently, wickedly funny, and incidentally features the liveliest and most adorable cat I’ve seen on film in a long time. The key performances are perfectly tuned; McKenzie, an actress I’ve never especially warmed to, won me over entirely within moments. She’s playing a sad woman, but her characterisation evokes sympathy rather than pity. Simon Burke and Jack Finsterer are also excellent as the male leads.

Preservation is a one-hour feature, part of a new Australian Film Commission initiative, and the debut of Sydney writer-director Sofya Gollan. For a period piece on a tight budget, the film looks absolutely superb and the technical departments deserve high praise.

Not only is Gollan a graduate of both NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) and AFTRS (Australian Film Television and Radio School), a remarkable achievement in itself, she’s been deaf since birth. I don’t remark on this to patronise; Preservation is good enough to signal the start of a career worth watching for any director, hearing or not.

If the 50th Sydney Film Festival were a restaurant, Preservation would not be a meal for vegetarians! You’d be served a richly flavoured entree to whet your appetite for a larger dish from that chef.

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originally posted: 06/13/03 13:36:25
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User Comments

9/18/03 sara connell absoulutly fantastic 5 stars
8/01/03 Double G preservation in my house, in my house, in my house. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
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