The world premiere of Robert Connolly's film adaptation of The Turning featured as MIFF's Centerpiece Gala last Saturday evening and was received by a packed out audience. It "turns" out that The Turning is a mesmerising, shocking, suspenseful and quirky film collage of short stories. Although it runs for a lengthy three hours it's fairly seamless and you won't want to miss a beat. Initially, Connolly considered a mélange of up to ten different directors creating their own interpretation of an individual part of the text. The idea began to avalanche. The result: 18 directors filming one chapter each, producing a network of short stories that could be viewed alone, but seen together they have created a weave of episodes filled with subtle links and gaps that communicate the whole.
The cast & crew at the MIFF premiere of The Turning
Certainly, acquiring a phenomenal cast of Australian actors has helped Connolly's vision. Big names such as Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto, Richard Roxburgh and Callan Mulvey lined up to work on the project. I found the acting to be unflinching, hard-hitting and effortless from the entire cast. Real Aussie characters were portrayed and it wouldn't be a quintessential Australian film without our much-loved slang being bashed around, like "rack off" and "root-rats".
Mia Wasikowska at The Turning world premiere. Photo by Tony Zara
The premiere saw sixteen of the eighteen directors attend. Seasoned in the game are Warwick Thornton of Samson and Delilah and Tony Ayres director of The Slap. However, Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham wowed the audience with their directorial debuts. Mia's chapter Long, Clear View provides some much needed humourous relief after the dark endings of The Sand and Family. While it remains an off-beat clip, it deals with the same resonant theme as The Sand – the intent of a child to harm or kill another. While the audience reacted to The Sand in horror, they reacted to Long, Clear View with laughter – an interesting juxta-position in itself.
Tied together through themes, motifs and a common language, these short films create a wide range of emotions for the viewer - they tell a poignant story caressed by our prolific Australian landscape. Cinematic shots of undulating red hills, expansive blue skies and perfect Western-Australian coastlines dominate and deepen the connection of story to land. Themes of alcoholism, abuse, fire and the magnetism of the ocean play across the screen and unite the stories, but lightness is present too in romance, love and human bonds. A recurring motif of missing fingers or limbs is established. I could feel the impending shark attack from Family long before its turn. A distorted time-frame sees set characters experiencing different stages of their lives in different ethnicities and places telling one part of the whole, while perhaps reminding the audience that experiences are shared.
Female characters are strong, yet exist primarily in the realm of family as mothers or daughters. They are protective, nurturing, strong women – women who have experienced pain and been bound by convention. The shared hysteria of laughter between Cate Blanchett's character and her mother-in-law in Reunion seems to me like it could be a cathartic release from their roles as "dutiful" women.
Rose Byrne in the Turning, directed by Claire McCarthy
This film is quite an experiment. Eighteen directors working separately to achieve an individual project that ultimately is fit together like tracks to an album. You have to wonder about the decisions and creative processes Connolly went through to choose the sequence. Some stories stick with you for longer than others. Some are left open-ended for the audience to figure out. Some seem out of place in the entire narrative, for example the movement piece, Immunity. This is a beautiful moment for the film, but perhaps it came too late in the piece to keep the attention of an audience sat in their chairs for three hours. Although there are obvious themes that work within the overall, the dance just doesn't quite fit with the rest.
This was an ambitious project, yet it worked. The more you think about this film in the days after, the gaps begin to fill and the story unravels. It certainly warrants second, if not third, viewings. Overall, The Turning is a thought-provoking, dramatic film. The literary influences of Tim Winton's story-telling has been translated and communed in a distinct and different way.
On September the 26th, The Turning will premiere nationally with two weeks of event screenings in capital cities. These will be treated as special events, limited to a single viewing each day at selected cinemas only, where you may have the chance to meet some of the directors and actors as they tour with the film. There will also be a much needed intermission. A glossy 40 page program will assist those who – like me – have not read the book (yet).
Cast & Crew watch on at The Turning premiere. Photo by Dean Walliss