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WIDOWER, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Neville (Chris Haywood) is an elderly woodcutter still grieving after the death of his wife Mary (Frances Ring). Isolated in the Australian bush he falls into decline both physically and mentally, more in touch with the world of his imagination than with actual life. His solitude is broken by the return of his son Blake (Matt Dyall) who has his own memories of his mother to relive.

Review by Jake Wilson:
My problems with The Widower begin with the source material: Les Murray's suite of poems about a son and his dying father, which are moving to a degree but suffer from a forced simplicity of language and emotion. Despite his ability to swallow libraries before breakfast, Murray likes to play the role of the folksy bush bard who defies the critics; there's a not-always-productive tension between his own baroque language and the plain speech of the farming people with whom he identifies himself. 

Even at his most apparently straightforward Murray always has a fair number of political and religious axes to grind, but there's not much intellectual heft to this hour-long "film opera" where his sung or spoken poetry, used on the soundtrack in place of dialogue, serves mainly to signify arty intentions. Against handsome shots of Victorian timber forests and Chris Haywood looking frail yet noble, we hear some of Murray's more sententious lines ("This country is my mind") sung in a solemn baritone with no trace of colloquial rhythm audible in the words. 

Lucas is obviously more interested in Murray's mystical intuitions than in a realistic portrayal of bush life, but his attempts to represent various kinds of subjective fantasy remain mired in a tasteful but cliched lyricism: there's not much chance for the numinous to reveal itself in between the flashbacks bathed in golden radiance, speeded-up footage of clouds or waterways, and close-ups of hands caressing precious objects. I can only fantasise about what a filmmaker on a comparable level to Murray, like Terrence Malick or Alexandr Sokurov, might have done with this project; like Paul Cox's The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky (which Lucas produced). The Widower suffers from a disabling reverence towards its source material, so intent on paying homage to someone else's vision that it barely exists as a work of art in its own right.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

WIDOWER, THE (M)
(Australia / Sweden / UK, 2004)

CAST: Chris Haywood, Frances Rings & Matt Dyal

PRODUCER: Aanya Whitehead

DIRECTOR: Kevin Lucas

SCRIPT: Lyndon Terracini; poems by Les Murray

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kim Batterham

EDITOR: Kevin Lucas

MUSIC: Elena Kats-Chernin

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited

RUNNING TIME: 56 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Gil Scrine Films

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 30, 2005







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