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Charity tourists find god in India


The Waiting City (M). Director: Claire McCarthy. Starring: Radha Mitchell, Joel Edgerton. 103 minutes

Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton, The Waiting CityThe seeds of Sydney filmmaker Claire McCarthy's The Waiting City were born several years ago when she spent several months working among Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. McCarthy related those experiences in her 2008 documentary Sisters. Now she brings the warmth and compassion evident in such charitable pursuits to her film about a young Australian couple who travel to India to collect their adopted a child.

Fiona (Mitchell) and Ben (Edgerton), like many Westerners who went before them with egalitarian pretensions, arrive in Calcutta bearing a tourist's naivety, and are expanded through lived encounter with the country and its people.

They appear to be well adjusted, with laconic musician Ben providing a natural salve to highly strung high-stakes lawyer Fiona's neurosis. Ben sees the adventure of meeting their child for the first time as a precursor to the larger adventure of parenthood itself. For Fiona, it is a pesky errand that must be gotten out of the way so they can get on with the rest of their life. Both are naive in their own way.

Then: the waiting. Their appointment with the agency is delayed, and delayed again. There are further administrative holdups. Anxiety begins to expose hidden tensions in Fiona and Ben's relationship. He is frustrated by her workaholism, she by his easy abandon. They don't understand each other.

Their attempt to grow their family reveals illness in what they already have. The journey becomes an attempt to heal that illness, on the way to realising that adopting a child is somewhat more complicated — practically, emotionally, spiritually — than retrieving an exciting new piece of furniture.

McCarthy is clearly in love with the people and place of Calcutta, often using a near cinéma vérité documentary approach, where discreet cameras capture the actors and action within real-world environments: the bustling jam of a streetscape; the sweat and colour of a rooftop dance party; the putrid-muddy banks of the Ganges.

This appealing naturalism grounds the film's mystical dimension. Ben is spiritually open, easily engaged by the ritualised reverence of a Hindu temple; in faith as in life, he wants to explore and experience. Fiona is an atheist who, over the course of the film, is awakened to the spiritual aspects of motherhood and of marriage itself. Hence her and Ben's journey of spiritual discovery is also a journey of rediscovering each other.

The film is at its most moving when Fiona and Ben finally meet their daughter-to-be. These scenes exemplify Mitchell and Edgerton's wonderfully naturalistic performances, as Ben and Fiona display instinctive parental nurturing and unconditional love for the little girl. It is during these moments that Fiona and Ben fully realise that becoming a parent, biologically or otherwise, entails the ultimate discovery of grace and selflessness.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a regular contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival.

Topic tags: The Waiting City, Claire McCarthy, Radha Mitchell, Joel Edgerton, Calcutta, India, adoption



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Existing comments

Unfortunately the film was so full of stereotypes that it never really managed to break free into its own. If the film was anything to go by, you could expect to to find yourself in the middle of a religious street procession every time you stepped out into a city street, but that simply isn't the case.

As Australia's first film that was totally filmed on location in India, there is too much evidence suggesting it was made by tourists.

Damien | 15 July 2010  

I'm looking forward to seeing this, Tim. As the father of an adopted Sri Lankan daughter (now 24), I know how life changing that experience was for us and how firmly it cemented our interest in and love for Sri Lanka.

Erik H | 15 July 2010  

I really enjoyed this film. A wonderful journey that reminded me very much about my own experiences in India. To Damien (Below), it is obvious you have never been to Kolkata during durga puja then.

Sebastian | 15 July 2010  

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