A Review of Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia”

CAPTION:  In Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, cinematography and Kidman rule.

The Wizard of Aussie-land Conjures Something Shockingly Good 8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

And now it’s time for a story about our friend Baz. Mr. Luhrmann holds the dubious honor of directing the only film I have ever walked out on in the theater. After fifteen minutes of the insipid kitsch of his Moulin Rouge! my friends and I bolted. About a year later I watched the film in its entirety to give it a fair chance and declared it the worst film of all time. His nauseating, hyper-realized, quick-cut style of editing and boiling down of every story arc to its rotten simplistic core was the most obnoxious trend in film-making I could ever imagine. Well, Baz went home to Australia to think long and hard about where he was headed as a director. After a seven year hiatus, he conjured up a huge budget, invited his muse Nicole Kidman for the ride, whipped up every conceivable cliché from epic movie history into a slow boil and spewed the sprawling tale of his homeland onto the screen in Australia.

Australia has an opening fifteen minutes that are cringe-worthy. It appeared Baz learned nothing from his walkabout and was delivering a mega-storm of comical kitsch that almost had me heading for the exit. But there was something oddly magical about this unwieldy dust storm of muddled Australian history, Aboriginal mysticism, and Outback adventure that prompted me to stick with the film and see if Baz had learned any new tricks. Much to my surprise, Mr. Luhrmann did, and it’s not just the slow-mo cam or the sweeping shots of the Australian Northern Territory that Luhrmann warmed to. It turns out when your heart is in the right place, clichés can work and become dramatically engaging. Luhrmann not only attempts to create his own modern version of Gone With the Wind with the cattle ranch at Faraway Downs substituting for the plantation at Tara, but he also desires to heal the racial wounds of his entire nation. He’s a man madly in love with movies and recklessly drawn to his homeland’s history. His handling of Australia’s part in WWII and the racial strife between Australia’s Aborigines and the English settlers may strike some as condescending and trite, but those would be the people missing the point of the film.

At its core, like Tarsem’s The Fall, this Australia is about creating a good story and the mythos of film. Whereas The Fall presented us dazzling images we had never seen before, Australia presents us a dizzying array of epic filmdom’s greatest hits. There’s a rousing cliffhanging cattle stampede, a romantic kiss in the rain, a not so subtle Wizard of Oz motif, a Japanese bombing of Darwin, a daring rescue of orphans, and a weepy reunion in the wake of tragedy. There’s comedy, thrills, drama, romance, and a message. No stone is left unturned on this vast continent, and the most wonderful thing about it is if you can forgive the opening fifteen minutes of dreck, the remaining two and half hours work splendidly as grand-scale entertainment.

Ignore the critics and leave your prejudices at the door. The plot of the film is irrelevant as any story arc is merely an excuse for Baz Luhrmann to unleash another sumptuous image from his dreams of Australia’s past. And though the characters are drawn in broad strokes, know that the performances are uniformly finely wrought, with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman complimenting each other nicely and proving to be especially adept acting through the wildly shifting tones. By framing the story through the narration of Nullah, a half-caste Aborigine boy played sympathetically by Brandon Walters, Luhrmann lets the audience know that this film is about telling your own story and dreaming big dreams. In doing so he re-imagines the history of his Australia as a fable and with the help of a little movie magic adds a relevant layer to the mythos of film. Crickey, that sounds like a pretty good story to me.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455824/usercomments-63

A Review of Irene Nemirovsky’s “Suite Francaise”

Suite Française

  A Mirror of a Nation at its Darkest Hour

Reviewer: David H. Schleicher –  See all my reviews

In her depiction of a society unraveling at a time of war, Irene Nemirovsky, in ways both lyrical and cynical, shows the human condition made up not only of great suffering, but also moments of lucid and concise joy. Her Suite Francaise, showcasing the early days of the German invasion and occupation of France during WWII, is one of the greatest novels I have ever had the pleasure to read.

In the first half, “Storm in June,” her depiction of Parisian refugees forging their way through bombed-out hamlets, abandoned villages, and small towns bulging at the seems with the broken-hearted, wounded, and lost, her vivid descriptions of the French countryside…the sites, the smells, the sounds, the plants and animals…are intoxicating, meditative, and transcendent. There’s planes flying overhead, blood splattered on cobble-stone walkways, children orphaned, women widowed, and death all around…yet there’s moments of striking beauty in small intimate interludes (like the section told from the point-of-view of a refugee cat from a wealthy family sneaking out for the night before a morning air-raid) where Nemirovsky haunts us with her prose and imagery.

The second half, “Dolce,” doesn’t have the immediacy of “Storm”, but still works shockingly well on many levels. Here she depicts the inhabitants of one small rural French village and how they react to their German occupiers. Nemirovsky displays an acute sense to detail and social interaction by giving us a harrowing view of the different class structures at work and how they react differently to each other and to their oppressors and how a fatalistic sentimental sense of national pride often leads to rash decisions and unlikely unifications. She again reaches some transcendence in her soft yet never sappy look at the burgeoning relationship between a lonely young wife of a missing POW and the charming German officer quartering in her mother-in-law’s house.

Knowing the back-story to Nemirovsky’s tragic life certainly adds some emotional heft to the reading but isn’t necessary to recognize the genius or enjoy this beautiful English translation from the original French. Waxing poetically about what could’ve been had she lived to turn this into the epic five-part novel she originally planned boggles the mind. The presentation of notes, outlines, and personal letters servicing that fact make for a heartbreaking bookend. Let there be no doubt, however, the two parts that remain are nothing short of a literary masterpiece, and the legacy they will leave in the canon of classic novels about WWII boldly display Nemirovsky’s triumph over death through the power of her words. Nemirovsky proves to be a master of shifting points-of-view and intertwining stories in episodic fashion while wickedly mixing comedy and tragedy, and the lofty ideals of war and peace with the banality and small joys and pains of everyday life. As two parts of a larger unfinished whole, Suite Francaise will leave you breathless.

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See below for my review of Fire in the Blood:

https://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/a-review-of-irene-nemirovskys-fire-in-the-blood/