Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Corroboree

Dir. Ben Hackworth
Year: 2007 (production) / 2009 (release)
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 90mins

Ben Hackworth's Corroboree is impenetrable. I'm sure that it means something quite profound, but by film's end that meaning remains as mysterious as it does at the start. That's not to say that the movie is particularly terrible, but there came a point when I stopped caring about how pretty it looks or the few strands of understanding I was getting from it. It premiered over two years ago at film festivals around Australia and is only now getting a DVD release, which is hardly unsurprising since it is not made for anybody other than Hackworth himself. It, in fact, ends up feeling a lot like Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, mixed with Fellini's as if made by Gillian Armstrong in the 1970s.

Corroboree revolves around a director (a shadowy barely-seen Ian Scott) holding a weekend retreat of sorts with an inexperienced actor (Conor O'Hanlon, unsurprisingly in his first role) being forced head-first into a living piece of performance art with five actresses, amongst them Rebecca Frith, Susan Lyons and Natasha Herbert. It appears that these women all have assigned parts to play from the life of the director and that that the young male actor, who bares a striking resemblance at times to Michael Pitt (take that however you like), is oblivious to and must react "naturally" to their performances. Whatever that means. All of this, meanwhile, is being filmed secretly by the director in a last-ditch effort of work out his issues with women on screen before his increasingly inevitable death. You know these creative types, unable to express words off screen.

Of course, within any story of this kind, there is the obligatory "art imitating life imitating art" stuff and all sorts of conversations begging to be asked such as about the blurring of the lines between life and death. Of course there's also the old-as-time argument that just because one atones, or attempts to, in a creative form does not mean that it's worth much of anything and that the whole endeavour is flawed from the outset. I, however, couldn't particularly be bothered with trying to go down these paths as Hackworth seemed intent on turning off viewers with his increasingly cold style.

It is filled with long takes to represent hidden cameras, arch (and at times just plain bad) acting and an air of pompous arrogance that is the sign of a director having a wank on film. I have not seen Hackworth's short films, but I can tell there is some underlying talent within the man, it is just hard to see underneath all the layers, as transparent and obviously "arty" as they are.

There are individual moments in the film that stand out, but they generally feel at odds with the movie surrounding them. The opening passage is a gorgeous way to start a picture and other early scenes have a hypnotic, mysterious quality that is intriguing and its fun to watch the cast maneuver about the set, which acts as a more compact and country-side version of the giant theatre studio from the aforementioned Synecdoche (a movie made after this one I had to keep reminding myself). The illusion doesn't last long and I soon realised that the film had its head so far up its own arse it could see sunshine. Any overtly positive feelings ideas I originally had were well and truly dashed by the final scenes, a bizarre series of events portraying a directors need to remain forever that ends with the film's star covered in blood standing in a garden completely starkers. "He is the director" and so on.

And yet I still don't think the movie is completely worthless. It has... a quality. It's hard to point out, but it's there, it's just so unfortunate that it's so hard to find when surrounded by all this prosaic artifice. I don't know what any of it means outside of general vague meanderings and half-baked ideas about "our place on Earth" and I have no qualms with admitting that. It's cryptic for the sake of being cryptic and it flaunts it. C-

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