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:: The Eye Of The Storm

Having not made a film in Australia since 1988’s Evil Angels starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neil, it is with eager eyes that local audiences should greet Fred Schepisi’s latest work. Adapted from Patrick White’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, The Eye of the Storm is a mature, intricate film that grapples with the strained and rotten side of familial relations.

The impending death of widow Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling), forces her adult progeny to return from their respective residencies overseas. Her son, Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush), is a stage performer suffering in the wake of a poor reception of his King Lear. Her daughter, the divorced Princess Dorothy (Judy Davis), is an insipid, emotionally stunted individual who clings to her redundant regal title and her meticulously picked outfits that she can no longer afford. Both are still very much under the crippling control of their mother both financially and emotionally. Upon their return, past issues are quick to surface as Mrs. Hunter fades further and further from existence.

Structurally the film is interesting. Bookended between flashbacks of a devestating storm, the majority of the narrative takes place within this storm’s ‘eye,’ building towards the mother’s eventual death. And this conceptual motif informs the film’s tone: a deceitful, affluent surface of placidity and sophistication with turbulent undercurrents of hostility, spite and emotional numbness. The family’s social status and superficial performance of affection is quickly exposed as disconnected and dead. Sporadic close-ups of decaying food violently pierce the opulence of Mrs. Hunter’s beautiful mansion where family ties are merely necessitated by financial gain.

At times it is unclear whether we should be laughing our pitying the social awkwardness of the siblings. It is a difficult emotional tone, throwing the audience into critical self-reflection of one’s own family dynamics and values. Our investment in these characters is strictly out of interest and sympathy rather than any real empathetic connection. It is quite painful at times; incest, impotence, emotional ineptitude and outright nastiness all stirred into a harsh alloy. And this multifarious compound of human vulnerability is portrayed in excruciating detail and depth by the cast, especially the leads (Rush, Davis and Rampling). Rush in particular offers the quintessential camp culmination of the 1970’s décor as his character’s histrionic performance is stripped bare, revealing a damaged child by the film’s end. The Eye of the Storm offers a rich tapestry of its characters and its social zeitgeist within which it is easy to lose oneself. My only reservation is the direction that is, at times, clumsy and disjointed.

Nonetheless, this is a memorable Australian film. It looks beautiful, the performances are excellent, the themes and characters are explored confidently and in all their intricacies, and the dialogue is well-crafted. Highly recommended.