On the 8 June I attended a screening of the Australian (and Irish co-production) film Strangerland starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving. Following the screening, director Kim Farrant discussed the project, her first feature film and kindly responded to audience questions.
Strangerland tells the story of married couple Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) who relocate to Nathgari, a fictitious, remote outback town with their two children, the young Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) and teenage Lily (Maddison Brown) after an incident involving Lily and her teacher. When Tommy and Lily go missing, local detective David Rae played by the always welcome, Hugo Weaving investigates their disappearance, against the back drop of an unforgiving landscape, suspicious town folk and two parents already existing in a fractured relationship, who deal with the disappearance at opposite ends of an unnerving spectrum.
Kim Farrant draws out raw and confronting performances from her cast, most notably Nicole Kidman, who despite appearing in some less than stellar films of late, gives her all in Strangerland where she finds a character to sink her teeth into. Fiennes is not an actor I find easy to connect to and out of the cast, I feel he is the weaker link. That being said, my reaction to him as a viewer kind of works within the construct of his character as the film progresses.
During the Q&A, Farrant discussed her influences, name dropping classic Australian films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Wake in Fright, her appreciation for these films are evident from the films title to how Farrant and her cinematographer shot the remote landscape, to the unsettling and almost mystical tone of the score.
Many critical reviews of Strangerland cite a lack of focus and believable character development and while watching the film I too found myself longing for certain aspects of the story to be focused on in lieu of another story that invokes the dangers, mysticism’s and history of the Australian outback. Reviews have also been critical of the ‘distracting sexuality’ in the film, Farrant has stated that she wanted to look at ways that people deal with extreme emotions, in particular those who use sex as a way of dealing with those emotions. The Parker women use that primal desire and act to cope with varying degrees of apathy, loneliness and for Kidman’s Catherine – the fear and grief she feels regarding her missing children and as the film progresses, her uncertainty about her husband. Perhaps how you respond to these character actions will depend on your own life experiences and propensity to use irrational or even self-harming coping mechanisms. I found the portrayal of sexuality in the film to be interesting, unsettling and honest.
Strangerland is well worth seeing in the cinemas as it introduces another talented Australian director to the realm of feature film and for Kidman’s performance.