Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Beautiful Kate

Showing at the Toronto International Film Festival: Beautiful Kate, written and directed by Rachel Ward

Synopsis from the TIFF website:

One of the many remarkable aspects of Beautiful Kate is that the film asks – insists, really – that you become emotionally engaged with its characters almost immediately, yet it also challenges you to postpone your judgment of their actions until the story has neared its end. Accomplishing this requires disciplined and concise filmmaking, which is exactly what characterizes Rachel Ward's debut.

Based on a 1982 novel by Newton Thornburg, the film begins with forty-year-old Ned Kendall (Ben Mendelsohn). At the behest of his dutiful sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths), Ned reluctantly returns to the isolated family homestead after a twenty-year absence because his cantankerous and bullying father, Bruce (Bryan Brown), is dying. Ned has dragged his twenty-one-year-old fiancée, Toni (Maeve Dermody), along to act as a lipstick-coated suit of armour and agent provocateur against his father.

Incendiary memories of the past are what Ned must guard against, however, and in this he fails. Conflicting and painful recollections of his twin sister's passing as a teenager and the subsequent death of his brother demand attention, but revisiting these traumas does little to calm the stormy waters between father and son. Guilt-ridden flashbacks fraught with emotional violence and taboo sexuality are set to haunt Ned until he can face his father head on. Each man has a lifetime of pain that only the other can help reconcile.

Ward has brought a precision to her filmmaking that fully supports this dark, brooding narrative. Andrew Commis's accomplished photography emphasizes the contrast between the lushness of the landscape and the barrenness of the crumbling family property. Ward's extensive performance experience may also have provided her with the sensibilities needed to draw such uniformly excellent work from her cast. Beyond these achievements, the sensitivity and skill she evinces as both writer and director of this memorable, difficult story announce the arrival of a strong new voice.

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