Human stories from Tim Winton's Australia

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The Turning (MA). Director: Robert Connolly et al. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving. 180 minutes. Website

A boy plays a treacherous prank on his brother while visiting the beach (Sand, Stephen Page). A man sees a news report about the discovery of a long decomposed body, and follows his memories back to the day of a childhood tragedy (Aquifer, Robert Connolly). A woman, grieving for a broken marriage, paws through her husband's box of memories to discover the cause of his emotional distance; in split-screen, we see detailed the events of a formative relationship from his adolescence (Damaged Goods, Anthony Lucas).

On paper, The Turning seems like a puzzle. It is adapted from a collection of stories by the great modern West Australian fiction writer Tim Winton; each story is re-envisioned by a different Australian filmmaker, under the guidance of producer-cum-maestro Robert Connolly. Characters and events recur, but are recast and reimagined by each individual visionary. It is counterproductive though to work too hard to assemble the pieces during the act of watching. For the uninitiated The Turning is best approached as a diverse collection rather than a singular tapestry.

Favourites will vary from viewer to viewer. However the standouts are genuinely outstanding. Claire McCarthy's harrowing The Turning features Rose Byrne as a domestic violence victim who finds comfort in a bizarre distortion of Christian faith. Warwick Thornton's Big World is a beautifully shot and poignantly narrated road movie and paeon to the twilight of a high school friendship. In Long, Clear View, debutante director Mia Wasikowska presents a wonderfully offbeat portrait of one strange little boy.

Not every story works on its own terms, and there is a tonal sameness to a number of the films that belies the vision of presenting a multitude of Australian cinematic voices. That being said, there is no underestimating the ambition and significance of this film, the likes of which we have not seen from the Australian industry before. That it could allow the inclusion of a film like Immunity (Yaron Lifschitz), in which the entire story is rendered beautifully but obliquely through contemporary dance, is testament to The Turning's innovative spirit.

The Turning is long, but patience bears fruitThe recasting of characters from one story to the next — notably, the shift from Indigenous to Anglo-Australian actors and back — may be disorientating, but it is also a neat way of blurring delineations of Australian identity. Some of the connections between stories are obvious — details such as a young girl's missing ring finger, or another girl's facial birthmark, are referenced in multiple stores. But the subtler, fundamental connections will be most resonant if they arise organically through the accumulation of thematic threads — of love, loss, family, friendship and identity — that are contained within each lyrical tidbit.

The filmmakers, while putting their distinctive stamp on each story, also pay due reverance to Winton's sublime prose. Fans of Winton will certainly recognise the author's Western Australia here, as the stories trace veins of human angst from the sea to the suburbs to the bush then back, always back to the sea. The Turning then is less like assembling a puzzle than it is like gazing upon the Indian Ocean, allowing the pulsing or crashing waves to shape your mood and guide your mind as you ponder the profound and infuriating meaning of it all.


Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is the assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Winton, The Turning, Robert Connolly, Warwick Thornton, Claire McCarthy, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett

 

 

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"The Turning" is a film I will definitely be looking out for. I read Tim Winton's book some time ago and Raelene's story is unforgettable. I'm currently reading "Breath". The preface of "The Turning" is from T S Eliot's 'Ash Wednesday': And I pray that I may forget/These matters that with myself I too much discuss/Too much explain/Because I do not hope to turn again/Let these words answer/For what is done, not to be done again.
Pam | 11 September 2013


Boy, I'd see that. I think his CLOUDSTREET is a masterpiece, the single best modern Australian novel I have read. I don't think his other books are quite at that pitch, but CLOUDSTREET and Martin Flanagan's THE GAME IN TIME OF WAR, and a lot of Helen Garner, are eyepopping modern Stralian classics. Says a reader from afar.
brian doyle | 12 September 2013


Thank you for this meditative capturing of talented filmmakers, in the act of taking on the visualising and 'imagineering' of a national treasure. Winton's insights into 'of love, loss, family, friendship and identity', even in 'tidbit' form, are highly nourishing.
Barry G | 12 September 2013


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