Jindabyne: Ray Lawrenec Adapation of Raymond Carver Short Story

Cannes Film Fest 2006–An intimate, mysterious and ambiguous drama, Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyn relocates Raymond Carver’s famed short story “So Much Water So Close to Home” to the high country of Australia’s Snowy Mountains in yet another radical adaptation.

The Carver text, you may recall, was also used by Robert Altman as one segment in his 1993 anthology “Short Cuts.” Scripter Beatrix Christian and Lawrence have expanded the narrative, which now includes new characters, greater attention to racial and gender issues, and and a mystical tone that befits the indigenous Australian physical locale

Though some critics (not me) favored the Altman’s shorter treatment of the source material, “Jindabyne” was well-received in the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, after which it played in the Toronto and other International Film Festival. The film is now being releaed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Ray Lawrence is not a prolific filmmaker (he has directed only three pictures in two decades), but he makes mature and intelligent drams, as was evident in his last film, the highly acclaimed “Lantana” in 2001.

On an annual fishing trip, in isolated high country, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), the owner of the local gas station ands his pals, Carl (John Howard), Rocco ( Stelios Yiakmis) and Billy “the Kid” (Simon Stone) find a girls body in the river.

In the opening sequence, we see a car chase on an isolated back road, and immdiately find out that a local tradesman (Chris Haywood) is responsible for killing a young Aboriginal girl (Tatea Reilly) whose naked body now floats in the river.

Its too late in the day for them to hike back to the road and report their find. Since the sun is hitting strong, and it’s a long scramble back to civilization, the quartet put off reporting the tragic event to the police. Instead, they tether the girl’s ankle to a tree with a length of fishing line and carry on with their routine.
The next few days, instead of making the long trek back, they continue fishing. Their decision to stay on at the river is both baffling and mysteriousit’s as if the place itself had exerting some “magical spell” over them.

When the men finally return home to Jindabyne, and report about the corpse, all hell breaks loose. Their wives cant understand how they could have gone fishing with the dead girl right there in the water. The men are confused too, claiming that the girl was already dead and there was nothing they could do for her.

Stewarts wife Claire (Laura Linney) is the last to know. As details filter out, and Stewart resists talking about what the event, she is unnerved. There is callousness about his conduct that deeply disturbs Claire. Making things worse is Stewart’s conviction that he has not done anything wrong. As a result, Claires faith in her relationship with her husband is shaken to the core.

The fishermen, their wives, and their children all become haunted by their own bad spirits. As public opinion builds against the men’s actions, their certainty about themselves and their decision they at the river are challenged. They cannot undo what they have done.

Claire is forced to conceal the story’s real details for the benefit of their young son Tom (Sean Rees-Wemyss). She tells Tom that his father wrapped the girl in a sleeping bag to keep her warm. The incident puts pressure on the couple’s marriage which is already strained; early on, there are references to Claire’ long bout of severe depression. The gap in understanding between the genders is echoed in the other men’s relationships with their wives and girlfriends.

Realizing that something fundamental is not being addressed, Claire wants to understand and makes things right. But her determination not only sets Claire against her own family and friends but also against those of the dead girl. Soon, her marriage is taken to the brink and her peaceful life with Stewart and their young son hangs in the balance.

Lawrence depicts the emotional problems and ethical dilemmas that dominate the entire community, which is thrown into chaos as a result of the body’s discovery of the body. While the specific context and charcaters are novel, the theme is familiar from other films, the recent “Dead Girl by Aussie Karen Monkrief, and two decades ago in Tim Hunter’s superlative indie “River’s Edge.”

The same sharp characterizations that marked “Lantana” also depicts “Jindabyne,” except that here the lead roles are played by Hollywood actors Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne. The film’s name cast should widen the film’s appeal beyond the Australian and the art house circuit.

Larwenc version shows great concern for issues of gender and race and for the physical landscape itself, which is depicted with mystrical and haunting visuals that recall Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and other Australian films of the 1970s. Blame and guilt begin to splinter the community. The rising tension is compounded by the fact that the victim was Aboriginal, as is Rocco’s girlfriend, Carmel (Leah Purcell).

The event and its aftermath has effects on all members of the community, as is evident in a powerful restaurant confrontation between Claire and her mother-in-law (Betty Lucas). In general, the filmmakers pays as much attention to the male as the female characters, one of which is the older matriarch Jude (Deborra Lee-Furness), who raises the morbid child Caylin-Calandria (Eva Lazzaro) of her dead daughter.

If “Jindabyne” falls short of being a great film, it’s due to some technical problems. In some scenes, Lawrence’s direction is too studied, and his pacing too deliberate. The soundtrack, with its reliance on vocals of Aussie troubadour Paul Kelly, might be too insistent in creating the right mood, though the film’s visuals, by Lawrence collaborator David Williamson, are crucial and impressive in conveying a specific sense of time and place.

Credits

Sony Picture Classics

Running time: 123 minutes

Roadshow Films presentation of an April Films production with Film Finance Corporation Australia and Babcock & Brown, in association with Redchair Films

Producer: Catherine Jarman
Executive producers: Philippa Bateman, Garry Charny
Director: Ray Lawrence
Screenplay: Beatrix Christian, based on Raymond Carver’s short story, “So Much Water So Close to Home.”
Director of photography: David Williamson
Production designer: Margot Wilson
Music: Paul Kelly, Dan Luscombe, Soteria Bell
Costume designers: Margot Wilson
Editor: Karl Sodersten

Cast:

Claire (Laura Linney)
Stewart (Gabriel Byrne)
Jude (Deborra-Lee Furness)
Carl (John Howard)
Carmel (Leah Purcell)
Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis)
Elissa (Alice Garner)
Billy (Simon Stone)
Vanessa (Betty Lucas)
Gregory (Chris Haywood)
Caylin-Calandria (Eva Lazzaro)
Tom (Sean Rees-Wemyss)
Susan (Tatea Reilly)