DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2011 - The Eye of the Storm

Thursday, 8 September 2011

TIFF 2011 - The Eye of the Storm

The Eye of the Storm (2011) dir. Fred Schepisi
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis


By Greg Klymkiw

I have no doubt that Nobel Prize winner Patrick White's novel - which this dreary movie is based on - is not without merit. If, however, Fred (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith) Schepisi has rendered a faithful adaptation of it, then it probably ISN'T worth reading. I haven't read it, have you?

What I know for sure is that THE MOVIE itself is most certainly worth avoiding.

For close to two hours we get to watch Charlotte Rampling on her death bed as a rich matriarch making her spoiled children - one of whom is the ubiquitous Geoffrey Rush as a foppish man of the stage - feel like shit.

If your idea of a good time is watching some hag-like harridan spewing vitriol and barking orders, then this is the movie for you.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a sucker for screen harridans. Mind you, I usually prefer them when they're slugging it out with each other in Robert Aldrich melodramas like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane - not dour British-Australian co-ventures we're supposed to take so seriously.

Frankly, the characters in this movie don't appear to resemble a recognizable human being - at least not in most people's world. This is a considerable failing on the part of the film since the duty of all great drama is to give an audience a way INTO the characters - no matter how distant they might be from the experience of many. This doesn't mean we have to like the characters, but we do have to UNDERSTAND them.

The movie would like us to think it's actually about the human condition, but is, in actuality, about the human condition as it relates to dying nasty rich matriarchs in Australia and their insufferable progeny who have expatriated themselves to be as far away from Mommy as possible. There is the stuff of great drama inherent in this, but Schepisi doesn't find it.

With Mom close to horking out her final globs of life, Geoffrey Rush and his pinched, prissy, pretentious sister played by the always welcome Judy Davis (who, in spite of the film, almost makes it worth suffering through) have made the trek from Blighty and Gay Paree respectively to ensure their inheritance will rightfully fall into their laps. We watch as this trio trudge through the turgid drama and seldom feel anything but contempt for all of them and wonder why it is we're being dragged through this sludge at all.

I will say, however, that Ms. Davis is genuinely terrific here. There's a mordant wit to her performance that suggests she's managed to find something in her character beyond what's on the page. Alas, Rampling (one of the finest actresses of all time) manages to hurl her invective professionally and there's certainly a technical proficiency to her descent into dementia, but she's as alone as her character. This might well be the point, but it doesn't make for the most engaging drama. Rush fops about competently, but to not much end.

These three characters feel like they're all in different movies. In a sense, that might also be the point, but it doesn't work as the picture unspools and it's only in retrospect does this occur to you.

One of the more sickening subplots involves Geoffrey Rush having his knob plunged and polished by one of Rampling's caregivers - a comely young thing who (for God knows whatever reason) is genuinely charmed by him and thinks she has a chance to marry into wealth. If the movie wasn't so earnest one could almost take a perverse pleasure in seeing a semi-nude Rush ploughing a fertile young wench.

We are also afforded endless flashbacks via Rampling's dementia. In one of them, she seduces the buff young stud sniffing around Judy Davis. I know this sounds appetizing, but I can assure you it is more than enough to induce major chunk blowing.

Whilst on the topic of ejecting globs of undigested, improperly masticated comestibles, Helen Morse's performance as the Holocaust survivor Lotte is so over-the-top that the character of this former Sally Bowles-like cabaret performer is completely bereft of anything resembling a human being. Perhaps this interpretation was the point, but Morse is theatrical to distraction. The notion of a performer who suffered and survived the indignities of horrendous anti-semitism, now reduced to the role of a housekeeper and recreating numbers from the glory days of pre-war adulation on the stage for her addled dying employer is rife with possibility. One needs to be moved by her desperation, not repulsed by it. She should be a character that commands our empathy. Instead, Morse comes off like a clod-hopping Lotte Lenya. Helen, the last time I checked, the title of this movie is NOT From Russia With Love. Alas, I feel I might be too harsh here. Where, pray tell, was the director?

Every year it seems we get more and more movies like this – dull chamber dramas full of rich, old people with Commonwealth accents who crap on each other (and by extension, us) for two fucking hours and we’re supposed to actually feel something for these miserable, privileged twits. I suppose they keep getting made because there’s always money available for such pictures. They’re relatively cheap to make, attract major actors, carry a veneer of respectability, are often based on acclaimed literary properties and can be directed for a song by filmmakers well past their prime.

And, of course, they get programmed into major international film festivals and dredge up something resembling an audience on television and homevideo.

Kind of like mindless blockbuster action pictures.

At least in those, there’s the possibility that something might actually happen.

The Eye of the Storm is unveiling itself at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011) and will be released via e-one Entertainment.


Anonymous said...

Go to Imdb.com click on external reviews for The Eye of the Storm to see how many people disagree with this inane review

Greg Klymkiw said...

Dearest Anonymous: I would rather hear why YOU think my review is inane. Are you up to it or are you some anonymous shill for the picture? I do, however, always urge people to read a variety of commentaries. So, by all means people should look at the IMDB external reviews.

Sean said...

Yes I've read the book & regard it as an Australian masterpiece - along with all other of Patrick White's novels. The film is a sublime adaptation - I could've sat there for another twenty four hours watching these awful people - and they are unbelievably horrid characters (a White trait) squirming in each others company.
All of White's works are about how we use/plunder each other for our own benefit & it's a theme well portrayed by the film.
I'd pay to see Judy Davis read a take-away menu, but she is SO brilliant in this movie - it's as if she's channelling White himself. I had a problem with Lotte the Holocaust survivor/cook - a well known stage actress who was SO over the top, and the characters demise was rather jarringly handled - but found the rest so wonderful, I'm prepared to gloss over it. Obviously chamber pieces aren't your thing. I love them. Aren't differences of opinion great?!!

Greg Klymkiw said...

Actually Sean, I love chamber pieces. Just not this one. I'll give White a read or two based upon your recommendation, though.

Gladys said...

Greg, I love the book but I have some sympathy with your view of the film. What raises White’s book far above the universally grim and sleazy is the plight of Lotte, the German refugee. Here the film absolutely butchers the ending of the book. Lotte and her suicide is everything, but the film misses the point.

In the book, after Elizabeth's death, White's treatment of the two siblings is ironically pleasant but more scathing than ever. And it is with Lotte the book ends! Almost everyone has left for good, and the last two are about to leave. The saintly Sister Mary de Santis chats with Lotte, says her goodbyes, and leaves the cook alone in the old house – alone, and now in the full blast of The Terrible Storm.

Greg Klymkiw said...

Gladys: Now THAT sounds like a good movie. Perhaps with a different director and - God help us - NOT the screenwriter of the execrable "Happy Feet", we'd both be singing a different tune here. Ah well, at least this movie is giving me enough reason to dive into Mr. White's canon.