Monday, February 1, 2010

Retro Review: Epsilon

Dir. Rolf de Heer
Year: 1997
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 92mins (US) / 102mins (Aus)

Rolf de Heer's Epsilon is a curious film. Released in 1997 - released under the name Alien Visitor is other territories with a poster of a shapely woman with sexy hips and a narrow waist - and starring Syd Brisbane (as "The Man") and Ullie Birve ("She"), it tells the story of a, you guessed it, alien visitor from the star Epsilon to Earth. Accidentally sent here, but since she's here she's going to spell out The Message of her people to The Man. Her Message? Well, think of all that stuff Al Gore spoke about in An Inconvenient Truth and you'll get the idea.

Yes, us Earthlings are killing the planet and raping it of its natural beauty. I can only imagine what certain audiences - those that were so shocked by Truth's tales of horror that they stopped leaving the tap running when brushing their teeth (how noble of them), more specifically - would have thought of it at the time. If anyone did actually go and see it at the time, I mean, which I can't seem to find any actual evidence of other than a nomination, much deserved, for Best Cinematography from the AFI.

This aspect of the film is all hopelessly hammer-headed and as subtle as a bullet to the head, but Rolf de Heer's strengths are not in subtlety (just watch Alexandra's Project or Bad Boy Bubby for further examples). Where the film does work is in the relationship between The Man and She that develops as these two experience each others worlds of distress (his personal, hers planetary). Whether it be romantic or pure respect, there are moments of pureness and, at times, a gentle playfulness that is sweet. The technical work from Rolf de Heer regulars (before and after) such as Tony Clark (cinematography, taking its cue from the work of Ron Fricke with gorgeous time lapse nature photography throughout), Graham Tardif (score) and Tanie Nehme (editing) make the film hypnotic to watch at times. It's just a shame the heavy-handed M-E-S-S-A-G-E was played in such a ridiculous way. C+

Quite hilariously on the recently-released DVD - from the Rolf de Heer Collection, a wonderful box set that also includes, amongst others, Bad Boy Bubby, The Quiet Room, and my personal favourite, Dingo - there are two versions of Epsilon. The original cut and the "Miramax Cut". The "Miramax Cut" is exactly why so many people hate Harvey Weinstein. Included in it is a grandmother telling her grandchildren around an outback campfire about the story of a woman that came to Earth to teach a now-famous environmentalist about the world's ills. Her narration punctuates the film whereas it is nowhere in sight in the original cut and was merely put there so American audiences had a clue as to what was going on (because it was so hard to follow otherwise). Neither version is better or worse, however, so it's all a bit of a moot point in the end.


Mickche said...

I think of epsilon as a film for the Greenpeace generation.
I bought the Rolf De heer pack a few months ago off ebay for $20 new, and i like Epsilon. Its as subtle as a brick but its enjoyable.
But you've made me interested to have a quick look at the US version, and see what they've done.

Gino Macaluso said...

you elegantly stated what I've been attempting to state myself with: "This aspect of the film is all hopelessly hammer-headed and as subtle as a bullet to the head" You are referring to methodology used to drive home She's message that us Earthlings are destroying their home. It felt a very dainty to me. You say only that the message "was played in such a ridiculous way" to further describe it. I'ld love to discuss more and elaborate on that, since it's in recognition of this harrowing failure on Rolf De Heer's part that I find such an enigmatic movie. As a film is merely kept alive by it's insanely substantial soul and heart, but even some minor finess to the story, acting and production value aside, would have made it resonate with a wider audience. Again, I'd love to talke more with you about this film. Thanks for the great review.