Worth A Look: 32.61%
Pretty Bad: 4.35%
Total Crap: 28.26%
2 reviews, 34 user ratings
by Stephen Groenewegen
Every few years, an Australian film is lucky enough to make a splash at the Cannes Film Festival. The overseas attention can be a mixed blessing. Sometimes it signals the start of a wave of critical and commercial acceptance that crowns the film as the defining Australian movie of the year. Other times it raises expectations so high that the European sensibility of the Cannes-favoured leaves local audiences bewildered and hostile. Cate Shortland’s debut feature, Somersault, was selected in this year’s Un Certain Regard showcase.It tells the story of Heidi (Abbie Cornish), a 16 year-old girl discovering that she now has the body of a woman. Life at home becomes impossible after her mother’s deadbeat boyfriend (Damian De Montemas) returns Heidi’s kisses - and mum (Olivia Pigeot) walks in. Heidi runs away from home in Canberra, blowing most of her pocket money on the coach trip to the ski resort town of Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains. Her only contact in the area proves false, so she matter-of-factly utilises the only resource she has for survival – her body and the sexual allure it promises men of all ages.
"Sex in the Snowy"
Eventually, Heidi finds a job behind the counter of the town service station, and a cheap place to stay courtesy of widow Irene (Lynette Curran), who owns a rundown motel. She also meets a farmer, Joe Cameron (Sam Worthington), ten years her senior. Joe’s laconic and down-to-earth, but also guarded. He’s been happy to drift through life until now, but Heidi stirs something in him: “When you leave [her], you still feel her on your skin”.
Somersault is about a sexual awakening, but it is not a conventional coming-of-age tale. Written by Shortland, it’s easy to imagine a male writer or director transforming this material into something prurient or moralistic. In the hands of Lars von Trier, Heidi would have been irredeemably humiliated and martyred by her sexual odyssey. Instead, Shortland treats Heidi’s sexuality frankly but with sensitivity, as a skill that needs to be explored and mastered as part of growing up.
Abbie Cornish is a revelation as Heidi. It’s hard to believe this is the same woman who played the reckless younger sister in One Perfect Day. Heidi is a complete contrast - painfully innocent and naive, vulnerable but resilient, self-aware but paradoxically unselfconscious in her actions. Following starring roles in Bootmen, Dirty Deeds and Gettin’ Square, Sam Worthington again proves himself one of Australia’s most likeable young leading men. With stringy black shoulder-length hair, he relies less on his clean-cut looks and fresh-faced manner to deliver a grungier, more complex character than in his previous films.
Through examining the relationship between Heidi and Joe, Shortland touches on universal themes. Somersault explores age gaps between lovers, adolescence, grief, intimacy and small town desperation. Shortland probes beneath the surface of her characters, defying our initial summation of them. Meeting Heidi forces Joe to confront his best mate (Nathaniel Dean) and his feelings about her and his own masculinity. He’s closed himself off from the world through dope and drinking and the film is as much about his thawing and awakening as it is hers.
All the performances in Somersault are eerily right. There is strong support from Dean, Pigeot and Leah Purcell, and a memorable debut from Hollie Andrew as Bianca, Heidi’s co-worker at the service station. Robert Humphreys’ photography is striking, and the beautiful alpine setting unusual for an Australian film. Everything is ocean-coloured; the light and landscape are drenched in a misty blue-grey-green. The delicate original score from Decoder Ring supports the action, and Shortland selects familiar pop tunes for the soundtrack with an astute feel for their ability to match or subvert mood.Its reception in Australia remains to be fully gauged, but Somersault is an eye-catching and haunting first film deserving of international art house success.
link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9634&reviewer=104
originally posted: 06/24/04 13:24:00
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