Ray Lawrence – Lantana (2001)

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Synopsis: The intertwined lives of four couples living in and around Sydney, Australia, form the structure for this drama masquerading as a whodunit. Andrew Bovell freely adapted his play, Speaking in Tongues, opening up the action, as the geography and topography of Sydney and its suburbs become major characters as well. The film opens with a shot of what looks like a corpse entangled in a thick stand of branches — the title plant, which grows in profusion in Australia. Bovell and director Ray Lawrence take their time in explaining whose body that is and then slowly reveal, with no help from a number of red herrings, how it happened to be there. The principal players are Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), a psychiatrist with issues over her child, a murder victim; her husband, John Knox (Geoffrey Rush), an aloof professor whom she suspects of infidelity; Leon Zat (Anthony LaPaglia), a police detective cheating on his wife, Sonja (Kerry Armstrong), who is a patient of Valerie’s. Zat’s mistress, Jane O’May (Rachael Blake), is someone he met at a dancing class his wife dragged him to; she is estranged from her husband, Pete (Glenn L. Robbins).Their neighbors, Paula (Daniela Farinacci) and Nik D’Amato (Vince Colosimo), try to stay neutral in the O’Mays’ split; she works days as a nurse and he’s unemployed and minds their children. Suspicion around the disappearance of one character manages to enmesh all of the others. Bovell’s stories are about secrets, real and imagined, and how they can poison relationships. The film virtually swept all the major awards at the Australian Film Institute’s annual ceremony, though its reception in the States was mildly respectful. -Tom Wiener (AMG)

Review: The degrees of separation among the eight principal characters in Lantana usually boil down to one, though they are drawn from an economically and socially diverse cross section of Sydney, Australia. Films that begin with a shot of a corpse usually require a resourceful detective to figure out “whodunit,” but in this case, the detective Leon Zat is a man cheating on his wife, drinking too hard, and all too easily suspicious of the dead person’s spouse. But Lantana is really not a mystery, though its central riddle will keep most viewers guessing until the end. It uses a death among its principals to explore the bonds of marriage and friendship. As one of the males says, “Most men are hiding something,” which may be a self-serving remark, but it’s true of almost everyone here, male and female. The flip side of keeping secrets is imagining the worst and then actively thinking about it until it becomes your reality. It’s no way to live, let alone keep a marriage thriving, and Lantana illustrates that point in absorbing fashion. Amazingly, its director, Ray Lawrence, has made only one other feature (Bliss, a 1985 satire) and is best known in Australia for his work directing commercials. On the basis of this film, he clearly understands how to tell a complicated story, thanks in part to writer Andrew Bovell’s expansion of his stage play, Speaking in Tongues. The filmmakers deftly use Sydney, a city where development is sometimes cheek by jowl with the wild bush, as an important element. -Tom Wiener (AMG)



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