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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday, April 19, 2014 - Edition No 893 

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WISH YOU WERE HERE

SYNOPSIS:
Four friends - husband and wife Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (Felicity Price), and Alice's sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr) - lose themselves in the fun of a carefree South East Asian holiday. Only three return home. Dave and Alice come back to their young family desperate for answers about Jeremy's mysterious disappearance. When Steph returns not long after, a nasty secret is revealed about the night her boyfriend went missing. But it is only the first of many. Who amongst them knows what happened on that fateful night when they were dancing under a full moon in Cambodia?

Review by Louise Keller:
An idyllic beach holiday in Cambodia crash-lands into a hellish nightmare in this taut Australian drama about a missing person. As revelations of adultery, drug-use and deception start to surface, relationships quickly deteriorate. In his feature film directing debut, multi-talented writer director Kieran Darcy-Smith has conceived and structured a powerful screenplay in collaboration with actress wife Felicity Price, whose performance in the leading role of Alice is stunning. Like a piece of chalk being agitated on a blackboard, there's increasing chaos and friction as we slowly learn about the characters, their lives and the truth about what happened that carefree night when thoughts of consequences and repercussions were drowned in excess.

In the opening scene, we meet Jeremy (Starr), a good looking guy relaxing on a picture perfect tropical beach, admitting his ultimate fantasy is to stay exactly where he is. By the time we learn that the blonde in a bathing suit lying next to him is not his girlfriend, we have already had some other surprises. There's a frenetic sequence of sharply edited scenes in which we get some local flavour with images of the four holiday makers enjoying the sun-drenched days and silky hot nights. They shop in colourful markets, explore the streets, eat, drink, dance and finally, pop ecstasy tablets. We almost feel as though we are there. The indelible image of Joel Edgerton as Dave, wandering shirtless and decidedly looking worse for wear as he stumbles across desolate scrub at dawn, sticks in our mind by sharp contrast.

Darcy-Smith tantalizingly keeps us on tenterhooks before we begin to understand what has happened and the textures of the relationships. Jeremy's disappearance is a bit vague and handled from a distance as the setting abruptly switches to Sydney; all of which makes sense as we learn that neither Dave, Alice nor Alice's younger sister Steph (Palmer), who he was dating, did not know him well.

The first revelation comes when we learn of Dave's adulterous' fling with his wife's sister and we squirm when Steph forces Dave to tell Alice, who is expecting their third child. From loving family home with two adorable, lively young children, the atmosphere disintegrates as quickly as the weather on a beautiful day that immediately turns sour. (Otto Page and Isabelle Austin-Boyd are wonderful as the youngsters.) There are consequences - which grow by minute.

Edgerton has great presence as the flawed husband who is forced to sober up to life when cornered while Price nails the pain and anger of the betrayed wife. Palmer is excellent as the sister whose seduction intentions are perhaps less innocent that first believed. Although he may not have much screen time, the vital role of Jeremy demands that we are seduced, intrigued and slightly wary of him. Starr makes us feel all these things.

Sydney and its foreshore looks beautiful through cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin's lens, while Jason Ballantine's editing impacts greatly on the narrative. Tensions mount as Darcy-Smith sets a tempo and rhythm for the flashbacks that in crescendo reveal what happened on the night everything changed. An ominous feeling and sense of impending danger begins. The dramatic high points in both the present and the past collide, precipitating the ejaculation of the powerful climax.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The corny postcard note adopted by the title takes on a dark significance in the context of this story, which begins as a fun romp in an Asian beach resort and ends as a tragedy for all involved. It's a gripping story and it's told with flair, not least by editor Jason Ballantine, who has the task of handling the non-linear storytelling - and making it work.

There has to be a genuine reason for chopping back and forth in time, and in this film that's obvious: maintain the mystery, increase the tension. It is also useful as an emotional propellant.

The filmmakers have got everything right for a genre film that sets out to keep us on the edge of our seats. After a few early establishing scenes, that's where we find ourselves. The screenplay has been crafted with skill; it dunks us into the lives of four characters, one an established couple with two kids and a third on the way, the other a new couple. They all have a reason to take a holiday in Southern Cambodia - some more than others as we eventually learn.

All of the cast are outstanding: Joel Edgerton is again impressive, this time as the young father and husband who is really a decent man but makes a critical mistake - while drunk and drugged. His emotional canvas is extensive and Edgerton is up to the task.

Felicity Price is star material, her characterisation flawless, her emotional honesty absolute. She also co-wrote the script; she is a major talent. Teresa Palmer as her sister Steph and Antony Starr as Jeremy the new boyfriend with 'business' interests in Asia are both excellent, each responding to director Darcy Kieran Smith's need for absolute truth in performance.

As for Dave and Alice's two very young children, they are so natural and real it can only have been filmed with a hidden camera in real life. Truly astonishing. (Actually, they are extraordinary child actors, superbly shot and directed: Otto Page and Isabelle Austin-Boyd.)

A sometime kaleidoscopic approach to the story works in its favour to impart the flavour of the Asian beachside tourist area - not yet discovered by the brand hotels and resorts. There is much colour - and just as much danger lurking beneath the surface.

Some of the more dramatic flashback scenes are beautifully executed - as good as anything in filmmaking. Carefully pitched, the emotional climax is both shattering and haunting.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


PRICE & DARCY-SMITH INTERVIEW

WISH YOU WERE HERE (MA15+)
(Aust, 2012)

CAST: Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, Antony Starr, Nicholas Cassim, Otto Page, Isabelle Austin-Boyd, Tina Bursill, Wayne Blair, Valerie Bader

PRODUCER: Angie Fielder

DIRECTOR: Kieran Darcy-Smith

SCRIPT: Kieran Darcy-Smith, Felicity Price

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jules O'Loughlin

EDITOR: Jason Ballantine

MUSIC: Rosie Chase

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alex Holmes

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 26, 2012

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