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Somersault

Director: Cate Shortland

Australia| 2004. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 105 min.


Not a bad record, is it? Nominated for 13 Australian Film Institute Awards, won 13 AFI Awards. With a tally like that you’d expect something quite exceptional from Cate Shortland’s first feature, and you won’t be disappointed. At first glance, it seems like a not unfamiliar rite of passage tale, as teenager Heidi (Abbie Cornish) leaves her mum’s house under a cloud after making a pass at the latter’s boyfriend, then heads for the out-of-season ski resort of Lake Jindabyne, where the phone number of a previous fling proves a fruitless lead. Broke and alone, her prospects look slim, until a putative one-night stand with Joe (Sam Worthington), the restless son of a wealthy local farmer, develops into a relationship more complex and troubling than either of them were expecting.
What’s so intoxicating about all this is the telling, confident way Shortland takes her cue from filmmakers like Claire Denis and the photographer Nan Goldin, using extremes of colour temperature from cool blues to rich amber to translate this whirl of emotions into visual terms. Her writing too is absolutely spot-on, probing the grey area between sexual contact and emotional connection as the alchemy starts working between these vulnerable young people. What’s more, she’s lucky enough to have courageously attuned performers to make it all flesh: Worthington supplies a sensitivity barely imagined in the Antipodean male, while the captivating Cornish is at once angelic innocent, scheming temptress and little girl lost. All told, it’s quite a combination. If you like Jane Campion and Lynne Ramsay, you’ll be amazed how good this is. A definite candidate for film of the year.

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