May 2012

Arts & Letters

'Wish You Were Here' by Kieran Darcy-Smith

By Mandy Sayer

In cinema, no happy holiday can go unpunished. Wish You Were Here opens with a fast-paced prologue set in Cambodia, a riot of images and colour that views as a contemporary music video: market stalls, pristine beaches, tandem bicycles, blushed sunsets. Four characters – two couples – emerge, enjoying a holiday together. As the sarongs flap and the palms sway, one can almost smell the waft of coconut oil and chilli pork noodles.

First-time director Kieran Darcy-Smith, who co-wrote the screenplay with his wife and female lead, Felicity Price, shows one of the couples, Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (Price), arriving home, tense and wired, to their two young children in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. The man they’d been vacationing with, Jeremy (Antony Starr), had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared during their stay in South-East Asia. He’s neither used his phone nor accessed his bank account and, after a frantic two-week search, his distressed girlfriend Steph (Teresa Palmer) is soon to return to Sydney.   

Darcy-Smith expertly winds up the suspense; it is a rare joy to watch an Australian film with such a tight plot and, most importantly, a second act. As the main storyline progresses in Sydney, a parallel story set back in Cambodia unfolds, mostly from Dave’s point of view. This nervy impressionism mimics well the random process of remembering. As Dave, a professional boat builder metaphorically standing on the deck of a sinking ship, Edgerton delivers the taut, wiry performance of an actor at his peak. With one glance he can variously portray lust, panic, relief or shame. Co-star Price matches him beautifully as his mystified, pregnant wife. Her small, lithe body exudes fragility and yet, as her pregnancy progresses, her character grows more feisty and rebellious, confronting every inconvenient truth. Her frustration at dealing with a surly, withdrawn husband is delivered in a way that is achingly visceral.

Another impressive character is Sydney itself. In Darcy-Smith’s hands, Sydney is ignited into a sanctum of sunlight and ocean vistas, featuring the feminine curves of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and the hills that rise from Tamarama Beach. When juxtaposed with the images of Cambodia – mostly shot at dusk or at night – Sydney becomes a geographical protagonist and a visual heroine. 

One qualm is the casting of Palmer in the role of Steph. Though she photographs splendidly, it’s as if she’s wandered off the set of Home and Away. Her high, monotonous voice grates and in almost every scene one can see her ‘acting’. Still, in the early days of her career, Rose Byrne had the same problem, and that didn’t stop her rising to the middle.

Mandy Sayer
Mandy Sayer is a columnist and author. Her books include Mood Indigo, Dreamtime Alice and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Her most recent novel, Love in the Years of Lunacy, was published in 2011.

'Wish You Were Here' by Kieran Darcy-Smith (director), In national release
May 2012

May 2012

From the front page

The PM’s talking points

An accidental email sets out the government’s threadbare agenda

Image of Joel Fitzgibbon and Anthony Albanese

Climate of blame

Labor runs the risk of putting expediency over principle

Litmus test

The US withdrawal from Syria is a turning point for Australian foreign policy

Afterwards, nothing is the same: Shirley Hazzard

On the splendour of the acclaimed author’s distinctly antipodean seeing


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Truganini & George Augustus Robinson

The identification disc in question. Image courtesy of Robin Barker.

An Unknown Soldier

A father’s World War II keepsake sparks a harrowing journey

Glenmore Park Junior Rugby League Club, 2007. © Newspix/News Limited

One-sport Wonders

'Save What You Can: The Day of The Triffids' by Bleddyn Butcher, Treadwater Press; $60.00

'Save What You Can: The Day of The Triffids' by Bleddyn Butcher


More in Noted

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

‘Act og Grace’ cover

‘Act of Grace’ by Anna Krien

The journalist’s propulsive debut novel tackles the aftermath of the Iraq War

‘Here Until August’

‘Here Until August’ by Josephine Rowe

The Australian author’s second short-story collection focuses on the precipice of change rather than its culmination

Image of ‘The Godmother’

‘The Godmother’ by Hannelore Cayre

A sardonic French bestseller about a godmother, in the organised crime sense of the word


Read on

Image of Joel Fitzgibbon and Anthony Albanese

Climate of blame

Labor runs the risk of putting expediency over principle

Afterwards, nothing is the same: Shirley Hazzard

On the splendour of the acclaimed author’s distinctly antipodean seeing

We will not be complete

The time for convenient denial of Australia’s brutal history is past

Image of Scott Morrison and Donald Trump

Mateship at what cost?

It is not in Australia’s national interest to become involved in Trump’s vendettas


×
×