The love story between an Australian woman and a Balinese dancer.
I finally got to see this movie last night, hurrah! Sat with a cup of tea and my notebook, as I normally do for film reviews and with my hair in quite a few ponytails (daughter practicing her hair dressing skills) I opened IMDb to get some facts first.
Director Phillip Noyce (also the director of Dead Calm) said of this film: “The original story was very different. It was really about the Balinese character’s alienation and his coming to terms with it, coming to terms with a western influence and his traditional obligations, trying to work it all out. Wendy Hughes‘ character went through a very similar journey in the original story. It’s just that the setting and the Balinese character were very different once we moved to Thailand.” (taken from IMDb)
This got me thinking. Why was the original story not made? (which sounds brilliant, if not dare I say it, more interesting?) Was it the fact they couldn’t film in Indonesia at the time due to political reasons? Or really that the main character wasn’t “western” and at the time of filming a western slant on the story was more bankable for the Australian film industry? I guess we will never know.
On inspecting the tagline ‘The search for yourself always leads to another‘ also gives us a very good steer on what the film is about. In fact I have slight tagline jealousy in how others can easily describe their entire story in only a few words – something I still have to work on myself.
I am a BIG fan of Aussie films, I think they always bring something quite refreshing to the table. Characters are gritty, earthy and real – the 80’s and 90’s hold my favourites (Mad Max, Priscilla, Muriel’s Wedding, Crocodile Dundee, Dead Calm) – so was very interested to see this film. It also intrigues me what attracted John to the role too?
As the film starts we are left in no doubt that Wendy Hughes character, Maria, is an unappreciated Mum of three kids whose emotionless wretch of a husband gives her no affection or attention. In reality his body should be lying in the coffin at the funeral scene.
At a dinner party a guest compares his wife to her stating (Maria) ” A real woman who knows where her place is, looks after the children” (or words to that effect). Say’s it all.
A turning point for her is the loss of her father and the loss of her husband (she stumbles upon receipts that he has been bonking some tart). She decides to go on a life changing trip to Thailand with her bestie, Judy, to have some breathing space. NOTE: Judy wears and has the best 80’s clothes seen on screen. However, in terms of best friends she comes in at 0/10 – she knew her husband, George, was a cheat and that it was “his way”. Any bestie would have his balls on a platter.
Wendy Hughes plays the role so well – it seems her last memory of true happiness was with her father. At his funeral she abruptly corrects the minister for incorrectly naming him. Her beautiful, soulful eyes and nature bring so much to this character – you can’t help but root for her to meet someone better.
The music is one of the most outstanding elements of this film, I wish it was available to buy. So too are the street scenes as she enters Thailand, clever shots which portray her escape into something new.
There were some scenes I didn’t quite ‘get’ one being the creep that approaches her as a tour guide in the worst t-shirt I have seen (even for the 80’s). This to me was a waste of valuable screen time, unless there was some other meaning in which I didn’t pick up.
Maria and Judy meet up with a mysterious expat native, Terry (Rod Mullinar), my ears picked up at his English accent. Interesting to note that this actor left England for Australia with his wife in the 60’s – appeared too in Philip Noyce’s Dead Calm. I’d love to interview him for the Mighty Dragon!
Terry’s character I really enjoyed, as I couldn’t quite work him out or what he was really doing in Bali and how he just seemed to ‘collect people’. After all he gave John’s character, Raka, ‘a hut in exchange for his company‘. Note to self: I need to find someone this generous in the Cotswolds, but I am bad company as I rarely speak to anyone, least of all neighbours.
As Maria claps eyes on Raka dancing in his hut you can see he has left a remarkable impression on her. He continues to do so throughout the journey – a gentleman that her own husband isn’t and the two clearly have the hots for each other.
I feel John’s representation of this character was to good for this actual film and seeing that really the original story was about Raka than Maria, I can’t help thinking that this was a missed opportunity.
Raka, a dancer of great ability and unknown background – this character’s story NEEDED TO BE TOLD, rather than a western woman fleeing her husband. John’s training and talent as a dancer is clearly demonstrated in this film – it saddens me that this character could not be explored in more detail.
Oustanding scenes are the ceremonial ones, you can see the shift within Maria for her new life. As Raka points out she is “closer to the spirit” – this vacation is cleansing herself. Of course, like any sane woman Maria is opting for a visa extension and working for the elusive Terry (I still can’t work out if he was a pimp or bar owner – or maybe both!). As her friend returns to Australia, George is on her trail and begging her to come back – but Maria has other plans, to book one of Terry’s huts (near to Raka – of course!) and keep enjoying her new lease of life an budding holiday romance.
George turns up trying to woo her back and I can’t help but think that when she states she wants her kids out there, she is lying. Not once (or that I can remember) did I hear her mention that she missed them at all.
As Raka delights her with personal dance performances and a damn good massage. Note to husband: THAT’S how you massage a woman. Why on earth would she return? She tells George she doesn’t love him anymore and that, it appears, is that.
This is where things took a downturn for me. For some reason Raka, who has a past (who doesn’t!) and that it catches up with him, they argue and then it appears they both decide to return to their homelands. But this isn’t really addressed and they seem good friends as they end holding hands at the airport. The parting shot, to me, was that they were both living in a fantasy rather than real life ut as we know little of Raka’s journey, we are left guessing his side of the story.
So here, Maria returns to her husband and kids. Neither seem happy about it. Bah. Neither was I – the soul affirming, life changing journey that woman had taken now seemed utterly pointless.
This story should have been Raka’s. John’s talent was too good for this film – however his dancing performances were some of the best I’ve seen on film. I’d like to know what he thought about it… may be I will be fortunate to find out one day.