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The Turning

The next great Australian film plays for only two weeks at special-event screenings.
By Lauren Carroll Harris
September 23, 2013
By Lauren Carroll Harris
September 23, 2013

Who knew that the next great Australian film would actually be a constellation of 17 smaller ones? The term 'producer' seems insufficient for Robert Connolly, the driver of this daring and innovative cinema project. He has pulled together the most visionary creative artists, filmmakers, cinematographers, choreographers and theatre-makers to bring Tim Winton's The Turning to the screen. Connolly's brief to his collaborators was simple: choose a short story from Winton's book and develop it in any style you wish. It's a bold and crazy concept. A curated, anthology film shouldn't work, but here it is.

This film is about the crossroads, the moments when we turn to face ourselves and force ourselves to change track. The returning patterns of self-realisation are alcoholism, Christianity, Indigenous culture and identity, our relationship with the land and air and water, and the inability to put the past to rest. Video artist Shaun Gladwell and actors Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham make their directorial debuts. Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) directs an especially creepy episode.

And every story turns on sharp moments of awakening: Rose Byrne's battered, trailer-park wife encounters God, Hugo Weaving's alcoholic hermit reunites with his estranged son, Cate Blanchett's suburban everywoman finally clicks with her mother-in-law. Until these moments, our characters are moving forward, but still in the past, and they all come together with unexpected narrative unity that balances open-endedness with diamond-cut clarity.

In these plaited stories, I found a film of rare adult complexity, and strands of hope and trauma woven together with a compassionate, humane thread. I found moments of astonishingly troubling beauty. And with a sensitive touch, The Turning does all this without overdosing on dark-night-of-the-soul melodrama. Rarely do we see a film with such a startlingly singular and confident mandate, and this is all the more courageous given the pressure on Australian filmmakers to dedicate themselves to producing more 'entertaining' commercial product.

Some viewers will feel The Turning's three-hour length. I did at times, and I thought some of the early chapters could have been omitted with little impact. But what the hell, go with it. It's not easy viewing but it is beautiful viewing. While you're watching it, this is a film to zoom in and zone out to. After you're finished, it's a film to dissect and discuss and linger on. Yes, this is an art film, but it's not the one you think it will be. So bold is Connolly's vision, he's designed a new distribution strategy to accommodate it: The Turning will play for only two weeks in special-event screenings — some with Q&As with the creative contributors — and audiences receive a luxe little full-colour booklet to help make sense of the braided narrative structure.

The Turning will probably make you cry and you probably won't know why. It will stay with you. And I think it will claim a place in cinema history — for the innovation of its style, and the frankness of its substance.

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