At a time when a lot of film output has become increasingly homogenised, the chance to experience something different, something unique, is rare. The cinematic adaptation of Tim Winton’s celebrated book The Turning is an incredibly ambitious Australian project that brings together 17 different directors from various artistic disciplines to interpret the book’s chapters. This collection of separate but linked stories combine to create a picture of small town Australian life, an emotionally powerful portrait of a life of isolated, damaged individuals.
Producer Robert Connolly has assembled some of the biggest stars and most exciting emerging Australian talent around. From Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto and Rose Byrne in-front of the camera, to established directors Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah), Justin Kurzel (Snowton) and Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City), and exciting first-timers David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska.
No limit was put on the directors’ choices, allowing them full creative freedom to explore and respond to the chapter in whatever manner they wished; the book’s recurring characters and locations cast in service of the individual story, not the greater picture. It’s a brave gamble to take, but a gamble that has paid off. Despite the independence of the sections there is an overall cohesion, a narrative harmony that fits everything together. The stories flow together unlike many other anthology films, aided by Winton’s themes, which reverberate throughout the work.
As the creators note, this isn’t just a film, it is more akin to a gallery installation, works produced around a similar theme by various artists. The pains of youth and the past are scattered throughout the stories; the loss of innocence and the isolation of small town life are linked with the power of finding someone you can connect with, and the regret that can fester inside you from losing or driving them away. While the films are all emotionally powerful, touching on themes of obsession, abuse and loss, with some expertly conveying the feeling of the world and time pressing down on you, there are also lighter moments, humour to be found especially in the works of Wasikowska and Blanchett. The direction, sound, cinematography, and technical skill and innovation are all uniformly excellent, while the mesmerising Australian landscape plays a large role in the film’s intensity; from the destructive and transformative power of the ocean, to the endless bushland that threatens to swallow you, the overarching motifs of fire and water are reflected in the surroundings.
All of the sections are of a very high calibre, though some do stand out – Connolly’s ownAquifer is wordlessly absorbing, Rose Byrne is wonderful as an abused trailer-park wife in the titular The Turning, Hugo Weaving exudes such a deep pain and regret inCommission, while Wasikowska displays a sureness of touch in Long, Clear View that defies her experience and sets her rising star trajectory even higher. The only misstep is perhaps Yaron Lifschitz’s Immunity, which uses interpretative dance to tell its story and, despite its technical excellence, feels out of sync with the rest of the project.
Even with the emotional weight it heaps upon the viewer, the whole never feels too heavy, never dragging, each story the right length; and while the running time may seem daunting, something this absorbing never felt like 180 minutes. Connolly has chosen a unique distribution format that seeks to be a cultural event, and The Turningis an experience that really should be sought out.
The Turning feels like a special moment for Australian cinema, a haunting, beautiful and touching collaboration that works as well individually as collectively; a work that will require and deserve multiple viewings to pull apart all its meanings.
The Turning will be released on September 26th for an initial 2 weeks, with tickets available now.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, Susie Porter, Robyn Nevin, Dan Wyllie
Directors: Marieka Walsh, Warwick Thornton, Jub Clerc, Robert Connolly, Anthony Lucas, Rhys Graham, Ashlee Page, Tony Ayres, Claire McCarthy, Stephen Page, Shaun Gladwell, Mia Wasikowska, Simon Stone, David Wenham, Jonathan auf der Heide, Justin Kurzel, Yaron Lifschitz, Ian Meadows.
Released by: Madman Films (180 Minutes inc. 5 min interval)