Jindabyne (2006) dir. Ray Lawrence
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Laura Linney
By Alan Bacchus
Jindabyne is a trainwreck of a film – for the characters, not the film itself. This Aussie sleeper from 2006 tells the story of the gradual destruction of a man’s married life when he innocently discovers the dead body of a girl while on a fishing trip. The film is notable for being one of the Raymond Carver short stories that was included in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.” “Jindabyne” is not a remake, but a different vision of a fractured marriage and a racially divided Australian community.
The title refers to the name of a small town in Australia. Stewart is an Irish emigrant living there with his American wife, Claire (Laura Linney) and their young son, Tom. There’s immediately some palpable tension between Stewart and Claire. Some of it stems from the isolation in their adopted home, some from Claire’s meddling mother-in-law. One day Stewart and his three buddies, like in “Deliverance”, take a male-bonding fishing trip. Before they even get to catch a fish Stewart discovers the dead body of young aboriginal girl lying in the river. We, as the audience, recognize this girl from the creepy opening scene when we saw her stalked and kidnapped by a local Aussie hillbilly.
When Stewart returns home, he doesn’t tell his wife until the cops show up at their door in the morning. Claire is shocked at the incident, but even more shocked she was the last to find out. The event causes their rift to increase and further distance themselves from each other. In the news Stewart’s name gets dragged through the mud when it’s revealed they kept fishing after finding the body and didn’t report the death until days later. Because the girl was aboriginal they become the target of anti-white hate crimes from the native community. Claire mourns the death of the young girl in order to cleanse her own soul from the dirt she’s been dragged through by her husband.
“Jindabyne” feels like an Andre Dubus (“In the Bedroom“) story. There’s a constant sense of dread that hovers over the film at all times. The fishing trip doesn’t occur until almost 40mins into the film, but director Ray Lawrence teases us with meditative camerawork, quiet dialogue with no music, and slow inquisitive zooms into characters faces to increase the tension. Even after the deathly discovery emotions are kept in check. Eventually Claire and Stewart have it out in one fantastic shouting match. It’s great to watch two great actors face off in an intense cathartic emotional scene.
The film also has a sense of aboriginal mysticism – like God watching over the actions of the white man and punishing them for their desecration of the land and the murdering of their people.
Lawrence crafts some very creepy moments – specifically the little girl’s cruel and almost fatal trick against Stewart’s son in the lake. The mood and atmosphere turn what could have been a 90min film (or even less in the case of “Short Cuts”) into a two-hour seat-squirmer. Since the dialogue is so quiet and soundtrack virtually devoid of music it’s an awkward film to watch and hear. At times I had the volume cranked to the max just to catch an important line of dialogue. Though it’s frustrating, it adds to the thick air of unease Lawrence seems to be an expert at creating.
Most viewers will be turned off by the slow pedantic pace, but with patience you may be reworded with, at the very least, two terrific performances from Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne. Enjoy.