When loner John Woldring (William McInnes) sees a distraught, bruised & bloodied woman scrambling on his outback Queensland property, he has no option but to tend for her - even though he doesn't understand a word she says. She seems terrified of some locals. Within the next few days he learns her name is Tahmeena (Monic Hendrickx) and on a map, she indicates she's from Afghanistan. In town, John gets suspicious of the publican (Bille Brown), who is asking about one of their 'cleaners' having made a run for it. John keeps Tahmeena hidden at his house, teaching her English and soon learns she fled Afghanistan in search of her daughter, who had replaced a dead girl in a refugee family. When he offers her clothes from a cupboard, Tahmeena discovers secrets from John's past. But the publican comes looking for her and local cop Carl (David Field) also catches up with her. And they've met before ...
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Anchored by two outstanding performances, Unfinished Sky is an engaging and intriguing drama. It is engaging for its characters and intriguing for its unpredictable story. Director Peter Duncan structures the story in such a way as to keep our interest piqued; information about the characters and the story are revealed in slivers and the audience is given enough clues to work some elements out for themselves. All that tends to draw us into the film, and Monic Hendrickx makes an alluring and interesting Tahmeena, at times tragic, at times endearingly feminine.
William McInnes turns John into a complex character whose isolation is rudely interrupted; he is a rough diamond in some respects, but his extensive library and tastefully furnished outback home - which is no mere shack - attests to a life of greater sophistication than his tractor jumping present displays.
Supports hardly have time to register, even though their roles are crucial to the plot. Bille Brown is solid as the publican with a dark secret, as is David Field as the cop with same.
The screenplay touches on illegal migration, avoiding judgement; but the human drama of the story behind Tahmeena's circumstances offers a glimpse into a world most Australians can't understand, don't see and hardly ever care about. In that respect, it's both a socio-political film and a genuine contemporary drama.
Review by Louise Keller:
With its economic and enticing storytelling, Unfinished Sky is one of those films whose elements sneak up so cleverly, that we are swept away before we know it. It's been nine years since Peter Duncan's last film, Passion, graced our screens, and Duncan's Unfinished Sky is one of the best Australian films of the year. There is a reason for everything in this adaptation of the 1998 Dutch drama, The Polish Bride, including the re-casting of Dutch actress Monic Hendrickx as an Afghani refugee, who finds sanctuary on an isolated sheep farm in rural Australia with William McInnes' reclusive farmer.
There is scarcely any dialogue during the film's first twelve minutes as the predicament of the two central characters is established. McInnes' John leads a solitary life, shared only by his cattle dog Elvis. It is Elvis who alerts him to the bedraggled stranger wearing a bright yellow raincoat staggering along the remote roadway to his weatherboard homestead. The first two conscious decisions John makes to help Tahmeena (Hendricksx) come unexpectedly when a neighbouring car comes onto his property. Tahmeena is squatting on the floor in the front of his white ute, and when she strokes Elvis, John's expression is one of resignation; even the dog is on her side. Without language with which to communicate, John and Tahmeena's relationship begins in its most primitive form. They exchange clumsy words through the children's books he buys at the local supermarket, but it is the instinctive alliance between the two that becomes their strongest bond. When she adds a jagged piece of blue sky in the unfinished jigsaw on his table, she unwittingly becomes part of his life. With supreme understatement, McInnes conveys all the conflict and pain his tortured character is suffering with little more than a look, while Hendrickx is appealing as the lost soul searching for her past life.
Duncan firmly holds the reins on the proceedings, while Antony Partos' outstanding, diverse music score builds tension. It is music that is the driver for the film's most romantic scene, in which John and Tahmeena dance by candlelight, while drama escalates through David Field's 'demon for the details' cop Karl. Thriller elements suddenly kick in when you least expect them and the film's final reel will have you captive. Satisfying to the very last detail, Unfinished Sky is a gripping film whose great sense of place grounds it solidly and with whose characters we can empathise.
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PETER DUNCAN INTERVIEW
WILLIAM McINNES INTERVIEW
UNFINISHED SKY (M)
CAST: William McInnes, Monic Hendrickx, David Field, Bille Brown, Roy Billing, Christopher Sommers
PRODUCER: Cathy Overett, Anton Smit
DIRECTOR: Peter Duncan
SCRIPT: Peter Duncan (story by Kees van der Hulst)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Humphreys ACS
EDITOR: Suresh Ayyar ASE
MUSIC: Antony Partos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurie Faen
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 19, 2008
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.