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FOX, KERRY : Sound of One Hand Clapping

Before flying to Kenya for her next film, Kerry Fox tells ANDREW L. URBAN what it was like shooting The Sound of One Hand Clapping – and which line of dialogue instantly puts her off a script.

Stumbling onto the set of The Sound of One Hand Clapping one day in Hobart, a casual visitor might have imagined that it was some sort of kitchen sink drama, in a household where kitch was the operative word. A gilded fern to one side of the shell decorated fireplace battled the floral wallpaper (even on the beams) and cheap gilt covered the light switches. The unco-ordinated décor screamed louder than the first assistant director.

Kerry Fox, as the grown up Sonja, was standing by at the door, ready to make her entrance to this new home that her father Bojan (Kristof Kaczmarek) had decorated for her as a gesture of reconciliation, after two decades of estrangement. It was a difficult emotional tussle for Sonja, her dismay at the décor – which symbolised the vast difference between them – had to somehow accommodate the fact that it was a gesture of generous intent by her father.

Fox managed it with every take, her response a mesh of rejection and tolerance, each fighting the other. It was instructive to watch her work on the set, her focus razor sharp, her concentration pointed at the needs of her craft.

"I knew the feelings inside, but I had to express what I felt in a way that caused an emotional effect in the audience."

Talking about it now, Fox explains how she felt about this demanding role. "I felt very good about what I was doing, but I worked hard at getting it out there. I knew the feelings inside, but I had to express what I felt in a way that caused an emotional effect in the audience. So it was quite a technical way of working. But I thought the script was very moving and poetic."

In this, his first film, writer/director Richard Flanagan tackles the subject of a father and daughter whose lives have lost meaning, "until they find the solutions within each other," as he puts it. It is a dark, tense story, set in Tasmania, where the father came as a Slovanian immigrant blue collar worker with his young wife and daughter, who has been alienated from his daughter. The story spans four generations, as they try to re-establish a relationship. There are scenes set in 1954, 1960, 1967 and 1989. Their reconciliation and the dark secret it reveals about her mother and her death, enables her to face the truth about her own life.

"The film is an intimate story of three people whose lives are destroyed by an event in the war"

Post war European migrants often came to Australia with memories of a past they would rather forget, and this was one such family. The flash backs in the film explore how uneasy the welding together of cultures really was in many cases. But ultimately, the film is an intimate story of three people whose lives are destroyed by an event in the war that echoes unstoppably in a young mother’s mind.

The film was invited to the Berlin Film Festival in February this year, where critics found it a moving experience. Writing in Die Tageszeitung, Detlef Kuhlbrodt said; "actually the film competition as such doesn’t mean much to me, but this film should be given an award." Kuhlbrodt had come out of the screening "into the grey Berlin weather, staring at the ground because your face is still a little tear-strained, and you look up every now and again to see if the eyes of the others who were in the cinema with you are also red with tears. This sounds really super-kitsch and embarrassing but after all your task is to cover the actual story – and to praise the film in a way that is understood by others."

"My brain was on that circuit,"

Fox herself had to translate Sonja to the audience in the same way: abandoned in a small hut by her mother at three, the bewildered little girl grows up amongst the migrant workers at a hydroelectric plant construction site, her father alternating between drunken and sullen, unable to cope with either his daughter or his loneliness.

In this setting, the central European social environment is as evident as is the physical setting of central Tasmania. Fox had just two months earlier finished shooting a film in Bosnia, Welcome to Sarajevo (opening here in June), where she had a first hand taste of both central Europe and central Europe at war. "My brain was on that circuit," she says.

And, she adds, "Sonja was also discovering things as she went along, about her past and her family. So on a day to day level, I found it relatively easy and I loved being in Tasmania."

"He’s a great man, an extraordinary man who understands human nature." on writer/director Richard Flanagan

Her task was made somewhat easier by her smooth working relationship with writer/director Richard Flanagan. "He’s a great man, an extraordinary man who understands human nature. He’s clear and direct and knows what he wants: he always wants more and better. The biggest thing was to work out a language so we could understand each other."

On the day of our interview last week, Kerry Fox flew to Kenya: she was off To Walk with Lions, or at least to make a film called that, about wildlife park founder George Adamson, and his protégé Tony Fitzjohn, whose girlfriend Fox is playing. She will be working with Hungarian-born Australian director Carl Schultz.

"It’s a question of a script being interesting and intelligent."

Versatility is clearly appealing to Fox, whose first major role as Janet Frame in Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table, earned her instant international attention. She has since made The Last Days of Chez Nous for director Gillian Armstrong, as well as Danny Boyle’s famous low budget comedy, Shallow Grave. In Michael Winterbottom’s Welcome to Sarajevo, Fox co-stars as a war correspondent with Stephen Dillane (seen as Patsy Durack in last month’s mini series, Kings in Grass Castles), Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei.

The choice of roles is usually instantaneous for Fox: "I usually know straight away if a script appeals to me. I suppose it’s a question of a script being interesting and intelligent. I don’t really know what it is – it’s just a gut feel. Unless of course on page three I see a line like: ‘She’s got a great ass….’

This article also appeared in The Australian, April 23, 1998.

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See Andrew L. Urban's interview with writer/director
RICHARD FLANAGAN
and hear an excerpt from the soundtrack

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