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Murder and delay

Nicola Mostyn finds that Jindabyne (15) smoulders amidst magnificent scenery

Published on May 21st 2007.


Murder and delay

Based on the Raymond Carver story So Much Water So Close to Home, this measured psychological drama stars Gabriel Byrne as Stewart Kane, an Irishman living in the remote Australian town of the title with his wife, Claire (Laura Linney) and their young son, Tom.

The family are part of a close knit community, and in the first part of the film we watch the men prepare for and embark upon their annual fishing weekend in the remote hills. But their tranquil break goes badly awry when Stewart finds the body of a young aboriginal woman floating in the water. Their subsequent decisions - to proceed with their trip and report the body days later, to tether the body so it doesn’t drift, to gather a ‘story’ to tell those back home - have massive repercussions on their lives back in Jindabyne.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is the setting. There’s something about the desolation of the Australian landscape that is hypnotic yet terrifying.

Despite the murder at its core, Jindabyne is a slow, layered sort of film, naturalistic, low on thrills, the tension created not by any hunt-the-killer plot but rather by exposing the weaknesses and danger points which exist, ready to flare up, in everyday life.

As a viewer, you are drawn in and made almost culpable by the way in which, set against the lulling magnificence of the scenery, the gang’s decision to delay reporting the body seems less-than-despicable. Once back in town, and set against the grief of the dead girl’s parents, the disbelief of their families and the hordes of rabid reporters, it becomes clear that their actions are horrifically callous, if not directly, racist.

The original town of Jindabyne, we’re told, is buried under water, with only the old steeple of the church occasionally visible, a piece of history which forms a clever counterpoint to the half-buried problems within marriages, families and the wider community, which threaten to rise to the surface now that peace has been destroyed.

At the centre of this intense film is Claire. Laura Linney is perfectly cast as the wife whose mentally unstable past threatens to tip into her present as she fixates on making amends to the aboriginal community for her husband’s actions. Byrne, too, delivers the necessary subtlety of a character whose morally ambiguous, if not actually wicked actions, are enough, it seems, to pull apart a fragile marriage.

The rest of the group take the impact in different ways, pulling together and away from one another, depicted convincingly by a fine supporting cast, particularly Deborra-Lee Furness as the no-nonsense Jude, too preoccupied with looking after her precocious grandchild following the death of her own daughter to support Claire’s campaign to clear their moral debt.

The theme of racial tension between the whites and the aboriginals has been explored more thoroughly, and more subtly than here, but, like the murder itself, racism isn’t the focus of the film, but merely one of the aspects which Director Ray Lawrence rolls a camera over, raising plenty of questions – about evil, trust, betrayal, morality - but offering no easy answers.

But perhaps the best thing about the film is the setting. There’s something about the desolation of the Australian landscape that is hypnotic yet terrifying. In this way Jindabyne is reminiscent of the compelling, haunting 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock; in both films the outback is portrayed as an actual presence; beautiful, menacing and utterly unknowable.

Jindabyne, Cornerhouse (Oxford Street, City. 0161 200 1500. www.cornerhouse.org). From £4.20. Fri 25 to Thu Jun 7.

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