American writer Raymond Carver's short story So Much Water, So Close to Home is the foundation for the Australian release, Jindabyne. It's the second time this particular story has been made into a film, having been one of several Carver stories dealt with more superficially in director Robert Altman's 1993 film Short Cuts. However in Jindabyne, director Ray Lawrence (Lantana) tackles the controversial Carver story and wisely chooses to enhance it and change the ending. The result is one of the most powerful and complex films of this or any year. Jindabyne has been nominated for over 20 Australian and international awards and should receive more award nominations here in the United States.
In Jindabyne, four men, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), Carl (John Howard), Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis), and Billy (Simon Stone) leave for a weekend of fishing. After a long drive and several hours of strenuous hiking, they arrive at a wilderness river and, in setting up camp, find the body of a young woman in the river near their campsite. It's too late in the evening to hike back to the car and they're out of cell phone range. So they spend the night and then, somewhat mysteriously, go fishing the next day as originally planned before returning on the third day to report the body. When they arrive home to the New South Wales town of Jindabyne, all hell breaks loose when the fishermen's friends and families find out what they've done. The newspapers scream that the men fished over the body of a dead woman and since the woman is Aborigine and the men are white, accusations of racism are raised. The resulting furor erupts into violence and threatens to destroy families and relationships. Verbal charges are exchanged, rocks are hurled, and fists strike out while the murderer goes about his business unperturbed and unimpeded.
The acting performances in Jindabyne are outstanding, led by Byrne and Laura Linney, who plays the part of Claire, Stewart's wife. The intense Linney, who has previously been nominated for two Academy Awards, may earn herself a third nomination here with precise timing in this flawless performance. "I want to know what happened out there," Claire insists repeatedly, while others tell her, "Let it rest," and "We must move on." They don't understand Claire's need to process the embarrassing and damaging events of the weekend and do not share her sense that some evil is taking over the town. Claire keeps trying to connect with people, including the dead woman's family and knows that things have to be discussed and processed. They cannot be allowed to drift unaddressed into the past.
Stone, is especially interesting in his first film role as Billy, the rookie on this annual fishing trip and more interested in listening to his iPod, than to the sounds of the wilderness. He's out of his comfort zone, but when it comes to making decisions, he surprises everyone by responding in the most appropriate and intelligent manner. Stone is a promising actor. Even the performances of two children, Eva Lazzaro as the troubled and ominous Caylin-Calandria, and 7-year-old Sean Rees-Wemyss as the timid, but inquisitive Tom, are impressive.
Perhaps the biggest star of Jindabyne Beatrix Christian's script. The story is not told in a capsule dealing only with the events triggered by the fishing trip, but includes experiences that have happened to the people of Jindabyne and how those experiences influence their reactions and responses to their present circumstances. Much that occurs in Jindabyne is subdued and under the surface. We aren't given all the details. What happened to Caylin-Calandria's mother? Why did Claire leave her family after Tom was born? Even the town has a mysterious past, having been moved years before to make room for a man-made lake. Now people say they can sometimes hear the town bell ringing under the surface of the lake.
Women and men have traditionally reacted differently to Carver's story. Women are often appalled at the fishermen's behavior, and men are more likely to adopt a "so what" attitude, since the woman was already dead and nothing could be done for her. Jindabyne adds additional complexity to the story and will have both men and women rethinking and possibly revising their responses.
This outstanding film reminds us of the complex ways our lives are interconnected with the lives of others, even strangers. There is danger everywhere, and only by paying attention and caring about others can we deftly sidestep it when it comes for us. Jindabyne is a powerful example that great filmmaking, like great literature, is much more than just entertainment. It probes into the nature and spirit of humanity and raises difficult questions for people to ponder. What is our responsibility to others, even strangers? How much effort do we place in resisting evil and in trying to rescue failing relationships? To what extent should we act as our neighbor's keeper? If the purpose of great art is to challenge people to imagine and reflect on what it means to be human, then Jindabyne is ambitious and skillful filmmaking that succeeds spectacularly.
Directed by Ray Lawrence
Stars Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, John Howard, Stelios Yiakmis, Simon Stone
Opens Friday at Flicks