Head Over Heels
If Somersault had been made ten years ago, it might have been the kind of indie film that Miramax would have bought and found a way to market to an American audience. But with the Weinsteins now going up against the major studios and concentrating on producing hundred-million-dollar Oscar bait like Cold Mountain and Gangs of New York, small art-house films like Somersault are finding it harder to get US distribution.
Somersault, a hit at the Cannes Film Festival, has played to
considerable hype and acclaim in its native Australia. It also won an incredible thirteen AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards. Set in a ski resort in the Snowy Mountains, the film depicts a landscape that most people do not even know exists in Australia, a country usually associated with arid desert interiors and the surf culture of the coastal cities. A white winter in the mountains is the perfect, but unexpected,
setting for director Cate Shortland's dreamy, lyrical style of filmmaking.
The story itself is fairly simple. Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is a confused teenager, desperately craving affection. Unfortunately, she has not yet learned to distinguish love from sex. After being caught in bed with her mother's boyfriend, Heidi runs away from home to the Australian Alps. She finds a job and lodgings and slowly begins to build a life for herself in the adult world.
Heidi's life is turned upside down again when she embarks on a tempestuous relationship with local boy, Joe (Sam Worthington), who has his own issues with intimacy and commitment. Through these two characters, the film
explores the way young people are shaped by their experiences and the people they come into contact with.
However, Somersault is not your average coming-of-age drama. Cate Shortland, directing her debut feature, has crafted a vibrant and richly textured cinematic experience. For example, she bathes entire scenes in different colours that highlight the moods and emotions of the characters. Such an unsubtle technique could have been disastrous, but actually works well in the context of such a complex, layered piece of cinema.
The soundtrack, by Sydney band Decoder Ring, consists of the kind of electronic buzzes and beeps usually heard on a chillout album, not a film score. But this ambient music complements the film's dream-like visuals perfectly.
Of course none of this would be worth very much if the acting was not up to scratch. Fortunately, Abbie Cornish carries the film with her brave performance and luminous beauty.
Somersault is produced by Jan Chapman, who also produced several of Jane Campion's films. It portrays the same powerful, raw emotions as a Jane Campion film, but is not as dark in style and tone. And like all successful character studies, it gives us an understanding and empathy for characters who, although not always likeable, seem like real people with real problems.
(Released by Hopscotch; not rated by MPAA.)