Sydney Film Festival Reviewed

We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.

The Film That Will Make You Contemplate The Key Relationships In Your Life:



The Daughter, dir. Simon Stone

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Paul Schneider, Ewen Leslie

Reviewed by: Dee Jefferson

Actor, director and playwright Simon Stone parlayed his successful 2011 production, a modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, into this, his first feature film behind the camera. Ibsen’s themes and concerns dominate the action – gender, glass, inheritance, deception – but are set off by a familiarly Australian environment, where machismo, alcoholism and the natural landscape are equally powerful forces to be reckoned with.

As in the Belvoir production, co-written by actor Chris Ryan and dramaturged by newly appointed Belvoir artistic director Eamon Flack, Stone pitches his camp in between two families: on the one hand, that of captain of industry Henry (Geoffrey Rush) and his new, much younger wife Anna (Anna Torv); and on the other, the working class family of Henry’s former best-friend and business partner, Walter (Sam Neill). Walter’s son Oliver (Ewen Leslie) works in Henry’s logging factory, while his wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) teaches at the local school.

Into this scenery arrives Henry’s son Christian, an expat now based in New York, who has returned for his father’s wedding. The tragic confluence of circumstances and Christian’s volatile emotional state acts as a catalyst: old injuries are inflamed, and secrets are uncovered. The ‘wild duck’ of the piece is Charlotte and Oliver’s teenage daughter Hedvig, an innocent who is damaged – possibly beyond repair – by contact with the adult world around her.

In Ibsen’s play and Stone/Ryan’s stage adaptation, the character of Christian has a pathological obsession with the power of the “truth” to set right the wrongs of the past. In the film, things are less clear: Christian is preoccupied with the past and his father’s wrong-doings, but he is also a recovering alcoholic in the throes of a break-up, returning home for the wedding of a father whose infidelity destroyed his mother. His motivations are less cerebral and more primal. This makes it a more believable film, but a less interesting exploration of morality. Which is fine.

Comparisons aside, this film works because it works as a film – from its artful interweaving and overlapping of sound and image, to its masterful construction of tension, and its naturalistic performances (many of them by veterans of the Australian stage).

For fans of: Stories of secrets and lies set in brooding landscapes, à la Top of the Lake.

Opening in Australia: September 10

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