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Festivale online magazine, August, 1998
In the Winter Dark movie review
In the Winter Dark

Australian films have recently gone from the grueling The Interview, to the confused and muddled Sound of One Hand Clapping, to the funny but problematic Crackers (although not necessarily in that order). Although In the Winter Dark and all of the above films are of different genres and styles, they all bear one thing in common: Australian writers and directors seem to do whatever they wish with their characters and scenarios, and to hell with you if you don't like it. Such is the story with this film; an exquisite experience that merges its way almost into excellence - and the only reason it doesn't quite wear the crown of excellence is its lack of reason to get there.

Movie poster; In the Winter Dark; Festivale online magazine; 220x312

This year's most stunning narration is delivered by Ray Barrett (Hotel de Love, Heaven's Burning), who plays an old but likeable grouch Maurice Stubbs. "I started to have these dreams," he says, "Not mine. Other people's…like there's some pressure point because they can't…get it out anymore, can't get it told." Maurice seems condemned to tell his story, and as we get further into his soul we begin to understand that the only thing limiting his heart from expressing his true feelings is his own arrogance. And perhaps it's that arrogance which, bit by bit, pushes us further away from the true essence of his character.

Something or someone is killing animals in the secluded valley where Stubbs lives. All of the residents of the area - including himself, wife Ida (Brenda Blethyn) and a couple of younger folk - fear for their produce and property, and desperately attempt to seek out and destroy the beast. But as they do so, not only do they realize that the beast is almost impossible to find, but also that in order to find it they have to confront hidden parts of themselves. Exactly what these hidden parts are is never fully understood.

If I could choose any two words to describe this indescribable adoption of Tim Winton's novel, they would be sublime and hollow. Sublime, because of the unmistakable excellence in which the film was shot and hollow, because it tells a story with no real point or ambition to it.

The cast of four main characters shines, with some beautifully interlaced performances and snappy dialogue. Barrett especially is completely believable; there aren't many lead roles nowadays that go to sixty something actors, but he sure makes good use of his material.

More than anything else, this film demonstrates the closeness yet eternal distancing felt between people living with fences both real and superficial around them, and how they solve both the problems of the future as well as the nightmares of the past. In the Winter Dark is a subversive and gripping experience, with a climax that is so wonderfully etched out of nothing from director James Bogle. The presence of an unseen beast brings forth some important questions: is the beast a vicious animal, a maniacal human being or simply a metaphor of fear and desperation? Much to Bogle's credit, we are kept guessing all along, and then when the daunting climax occurs, we guess some more.

But that is ignoring that fact that it is indeed a hollow experience. That's disappointing, considering the amount of vibrant talent and raw Australian enthusiasm which shapes this rich experience. With no real pay off, and no powerful message to leave us shattered, it's still an absorbent and admirable film. And - I can just picture Bogle saying it - to hell with you if you don't like it.

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mall Due for Australian release September 10, 1998

From 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 3 and a half stars
Luke Buckmaster
See also: Ali's review
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Just the facts:

Title: In the Winter Dark (1998)
Written by: Story by Tim Winton; screenplay by Peter Asmussen, James Bogle, Peter Rasmussen
Directed by: James Bogle  
Produced by: Rosemary Blight  
Edited by: Suresh Ayyar  
Director of Photography: Martin McGrath  

The Players: Brenda Blethyn .... Ida Stubbs
Ray Barrett .... Maurice Stubbs
Richard Roxburgh .... Murray Jacob
Miranda Otto .... Ronnie
Official website not known
For session times of current films, use the cinema listings on the Movie links page. For scheduled release dates, see the coming attractions section.
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Festivale Online Magazine
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: Jun-1998 : Last updated: Aug-1998 : Last tested: 3-Jul-2014: Last Compiled: 3-Jul-2014
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