Friday, September 11, 2009

Andrea Grunert: Old secrets and a second chance

Old secrets and a second chance
by Andrea Grunert
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A man discovers the body of a dead young Aborigine woman in a river, but instead of reporting his discovery, he and his three friends tie down the corpse to prevent it from drifting away and continue fishing. When they arrive back home, they have to face the incomprehension and criticism of the other members of their community and the grief and anger of the Aborigines, who accuse them of racism. At first glance, Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (Australia, 2006) is a film about unforeseen developments which affect the lives of the four men and their families. The disastrous results of their decision represent a challenge to normality and destabilize even more the already dysfunctional human relationships. It is in particular the male protagonist who is forced to examine how he defines himself as a man, a husband and father, and as a member of the community.

Lost hopes and the idea of a second chance

In adapting for the screen Raymond Carver’s short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" (which was also part of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts), Lawrence reflects on sudden decisions and their unexpected consequences in a narrative composed of multiple layers of meaning that deals with love, death, friendship and guilt. Both the literary text and the film focus on social identities, but whereas Carver’s story is located in an U.S. working-class milieu, Lawrence sets his moral tale in an Australian context characterized by the confrontation between the white community and the Aborigines. In doing so, he depicts distinct cultural spaces revealed through frequent images of the landscape — the arid desert, the mountains, and the water — images which punctuate the film.

"Jindabyne" is an Aborigine word for “valley.” Located in New South Wales, it is an isolated spot surrounded by mountains. Not unlike utopian communities, which are often represented as islands, Jindabyne, the town where the protagonists live, is a place that has been given a second chance: the original town was flooded in the early 1960s to make way for a dam. A closed space haunted by the ghosts of an unresolved past, it becomes a metaphor for dystopia. It is, however, the question of a second chance in the lives of the characters which Lawrence retraces in both individual and social terms. The image of the town under the water is used for metonymic ends in a film which, by creating an atmosphere of tension and mystery, brings to the surface old secrets, anxieties and contradictory feelings of guilt and desire.

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