EYE OF THE STORM, THE
In a Sydney suburb, two nurses, Maria (Maria Theodorakis) and Flora (Alexandra Schepisi) a housekeeper, Lotte (Helen Morse) and a solicitor Arnold (John Gaden) attend to Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling) as her expatriate son Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush), a famous but struggling actor in London, and daughter Dorothy (Judy Davis), a divorced and down at heel princess convene at her deathbed. They come to make sure they can leave Australia with their hefty inheritance.
Review by Louise Keller:
Adapting Patrick White's novel must have been no easy task, yet Judy Morris has crafted a wonderful screenplay ripe with the theatrical, the whimsical, the dramatic and the heartfelt. Additionally, a handpicked cast headed by Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis and Charlotte Rampling, offers the story's themes of life, death, privilege and pain on a silver platter for us to digest with poetry, delicacy and lust for life. This is not a film for everyone but the discerning will find plenty to admire in Fred Schepisi's brave statement that demands to be noticed.
The film begins with Rush's voice-over monologue stating that being of a certain class entitles you to die when you wish. A beguiling start, indeed. The scene is set as we meet Rampling's ailing matriarch Elizabeth, whose life comprises morphine moments and thrives on being amused by her German housekeeper Lotte (Helen Morse) and carer Flora (Alexandra Schepisi). Lotte is a pathetic creature who has never recovered from her wartime experiences in Germany; she looks as though she has waltzed off the set of Cabaret, wearing Elizabeth's sequins, baubles and top hat as she sings and dances for her lady. (Morse is in great form.) Elizabeth's reliable and caring nurse Mary (Maria Theodorakis) is kept at bay and left to her nursing duties. There's a sense of anticipation for the imminent arrival of Elizabeth's absent children Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Princess Dorothy de Lascabanes (Judy Davis), both of which have achieved the distinction their mother aspired for them, but are an obvious disappointment.
As we get a sense of Basil and Dorothy's financial needs and their dysfunctional relationship with their mother, the film jumps in and out of flashback like a metronome on countdown. We are taken to a time when a younger Elizabeth, clad in a white dress stands on a beach, white waves breaking around her feet. These are moments that wash over us during Elizabeth's non-lucid moments.
Rush is brilliant as the dubiously successful Shakespearian actor who is contemplating an autobiographical work. (I love the line a fellow thespian spouts: 'We're not really at our best when we are ourselves,') Davis too, is fabulous as the unhappy-in-love divorced woman with nothing but a meaningless title. Rampling is superb as the reclining self-centred diva with a selection of silk nightgowns and assortment of wigs to match the cushions. Schepisi (daughter of director Fred) is excellent as the ambitious carer who has her eye on Basil.
There are other cast member worthy of mention, like Colin Friels as the man who might be Prime Minister, and whose scenes with (real-life wife) Davis have an extra spark. Robyn Nevin too (as Lal) has a memorable scene over tea and cakes, when the bottom of her world falls out while John Gaden as her husband Arnold does a fine job of being inconspicuous as Elizabeth's attorney.
The rhythms accelerate as the film approaches its climactic conclusion and the characters reach breaking point. Ghosts of times past appear, secrets are revealed and vulnerabilities are laid out for all to see. It may not work all the time, but I was totally absorbed by this bizarre tale and its characters that somehow left their mark and remain with me still.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It was Australian filmmaker Peter Weir who said that all films are about death - one way or another, one kind of death or another. There is truth in this, and much of literature, too, is about death. Australian literary icon Patrick White (more revered than actually read, if anecdotal truth be known) takes the matter of death head on in his family confrontation drama, The Eye of the Storm, adapted for the screen by Judy Morris.
Supposedly set in a Centennial Park mansion, though the location of the suburb is never really established, sometime in the late 60s early 70s, The Eye of the Storm has a traditional (or old fashioned) tone in all filmmaking respects, from production design to music.
These literary creations remain at arm's length, despite some fine performances, as if manipulated by the writer to go through a ritual in which weaknesses are exposed by the approach of a matriarch's death. We are told this, but we hardly experience her power, only her feeble, death bed incoherence. Her children seem to be what White imagines rather then people carefully observed and she herself, Mrs Hunter, the esteemed Charlotte Rampling, is a rambling caricature of a wealthy woman dying before her own very eyes.
If the characters aren't engaging, at least the story could be - but it feels cold. Scattered throughout are flashbacks to youth, to days that now well up like tears in their memories as mother and children struggle to deal with a present that they can't control.
Sex is inserted into the story of family angst and dysfunction. The siblings have no credible interaction, especially in one seemingly gratuitous scene where incest is faintly suggested. Ever so faintly, opaquely.
The literary source seems to be re-imagined more for the stage, where the physicality of the actors may imbue the work with some dramatic tension and interest.
Schepisi's cast is full of actors from theatre, including those mentioned above, but also the wonderful Robyn Nevin, who is given a small but appreciated role, and Colin Friels as a politician and would be Prime Minister - a somewhat misjudged character.
The elements that do work are Helen Morse as the tragic Lotte, the German housemaid, cook and private dancer, a character surely made up of bits of Bertolt Brecht and Cabaret; Alexandra Schepisi as Flora, the carer-nurse who pings Mrs Hunter's son Sir Basil (Rush) and seduces him with plans for long term usage; and John Gaden as the faithful but unrewarded lawyer Albert.
Well crafted, to be sure, but light on genuine emotional depth, the material is aching to find meaning, but falls short.
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EYE OF THE STORM, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Charlotte Rampling, Colin Friels, Robyn Nevin, John Gaden, Helen Morse, Alexandra Schepisi, Maria Theodorakis, Dustin Clare, Elizabeth Alexander, Barry Langrishe
PRODUCER: Gregory J. Read, Antony Waddington
DIRECTOR: Fred Schepisi
SCRIPT: Judy Morris (novel by Patrick White)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Baker
EDITOR: Kate Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Melinda Doring
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission/Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 15, 2011