CATERPILLAR WISH, THE
In a small coastal town in Victoria, 17 year old Emily (Victoria Thaine) is anxious to find out who was her father. Her single mum, Susan (Susie Porter), wants to keep the past closed off, and maintains he was a "tom cat"; a tourist who came through the town one summer and never returned. She hasn't spoken to her parents since she fell pregnant at fifteen and refused to name the father. Local boatman Stephen (Robert Mammone), however, is haunted by the past in the form of memories of his deceased wife and daughter. Carl (Philip Quast), the town policeman, is hiding the past (as well as some of the present) from his wife Elizabeth (Wendy Hughes), who has her suspicions, while their older son Joel (Khan Chittenden) has a secret affair with Emily, which has explosive connotations.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Crafted with impeccable care by all concerned, The Caterpillar Wish is arthouse cinema, full of visually striking interstitials - close ups of water and objects or elements that surround the characters. The film sets a mood and a pace that is drawn from the narrative about secrets of the past that collide with realities of the present. All of it is seen through the eyes of 17 year old Emily, and New Zealand drama In My Father's Den springs readily to mind (as does Somersault to a lesser extent). The link with the former is enhanced by the fact that the central character of Celia is played by an actress called Emily [Barclay], and photographs play a role in both films.
All three stories of female teenagers are dealing with the painful terrain of real life, but they all risk being diminished by plot elements that have been usurped by soapies and mass produced into clichés. They all succeed, but only partially, to shrug off this burden.
The Caterpillar Wish, despite its abundance of talented professional supporters throughout the Australian film industry, is perhaps least free of the problems that haunt such films. Yet Victoria Thaine is warm, naturalistic and vulnerable as Emily, and we certainly empathise with her. Susie Porter delivers a mature and complex characterisation, as does Robert Mammone, one of Australia's most under utilised and most gifted actors. What's missing is a sense of cohesion in both the casting choices and the script; there is room for more complex characterisations and for more sophisticated writing for Susie's parents, for Carl, and for Carl's wife, Elizabeth. There are holes in exposition (eg the expansive Carl/Elizabeth home suggests a story element is missing) and in story telling (eg why is the weak romantic subplot for Susan and Stephen so underdeveloped).
All of these weaknesses distance us from the film's obviously heartfelt scenario and from some of its characters, while we are wishing that it weren't so. Unsatisfying in too many areas, The Caterpillar Wish is itself at the caterpillar stage.
Review by Louise Keller:
Like In My Father's Den, the themes of The Caterpillar Wish are concerned with a small town, a young girl looking for her father and the relationships between the close-knit locals. A camera observing people and life is also pertinent in both, but unlike the acclaimed New Zealand film, the Australian drama about family and belonging is mostly a character study rather than a story with a satisfying emotional curve and conclusion.
Writer /director Sandra Sciberras has gathered a wonderful cast to portray the characters in the sleepy seaside town, shot in beautiful South Australia. Susie Porter and Robert Mammone are superb, and the teens Victoria Thaine as Emily and Khan Chittenden as Joel are excellent. Who could forget Mammone in the 1990 romantic drama The Crossing, when he and Russell Crowe, competed for the affections of Danielle Spencer? It's good to see him on the big screen again. But while the characters are appealing in their quest to become or attain the butterfly of their dreams, much of what happens is not believable. Questions arise that cannot be answered. Questions like why is it only now that seventeen year old Emily becomes curious about her grandparents? The appearance of a bible with an inscription and a discarded envelope with a return address is not sufficient to warrant her finding them so quickly and easily.
Then there is Emily's unclarified friendship with Robert Mammone's grieving Stephen. What is the reason for their closeness? What is the background of his relationship with Susie Porter's Susan? And while we might empathise for Stephen's tragic sister Elizabeth (Wendy Hughes), trapped in a marriage with Carl, a bullying womaniser (Phillip Quast, convincing as the pig of a husband), her actions and conversation with her younger son are not credible. Nor is the relationship between Carl and Elizabeth.
As a character study, Sciberras' film tantalises, but the storytelling lets it down. With its gentle lilting soundtrack, the mood is the most tangible strength of the film. I wish I liked it more.
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CATERPILLAR WISH, THE (M)
CAST: Susie Porter, Victoria Thaine, Wendy Hughes, Robert Mammone, Philip Quast, Khan Chittenden, Elspeth Ballantyne, Bruce Myles, Nicholas Bell, Will Traeger
PRODUCER: Kate Whitbread
DIRECTOR: Sandra Sciberras
SCRIPT: Sandra Sciberras
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Greig Fraser
EDITOR: Jason Ballantine
MUSIC: Burkhard Dallwitz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robert Webb
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 15, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: October 25, 2006