Linh (Nammi Le), a Vietnamese Australian university student, secretly starts part-time work as an escort, helping her parents with their mortgage in a small country town. She develops a close rapport with one of her clients, Luke (Peter O'Brien) an enigmatic American art dealer with a complex past who books her on a regular basis. For a time she manages to keep her two lives in separate compartments. When she falls for fellow student Jack (Andrew Hazzard), her worlds collide and she must deal with the emotional chaos that follows.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
John Duigan's magic cinematic touch is as vibrant as ever, his sensitivity and relevance driving great stories that resonate with us and guiding wonderful performances. It's a joy to see his latest film reconfirming all these attributes. Careless Love weaves together various strands and elements that develop like a fascinating tapestry of relationships and circumstances that provoke and challenge the viewer.
Stripped down, the primary story is about a young woman whose well intentioned but socially tricky choices make her vulnerable; can she live two kinds of life, partitioned by a wall of secrecy. Nammi Le is a marvellous find, and delivers a clever, innately talented and beautiful young woman in Linh, aka Mei at night. Duigan portrays her part-time sex working in a matter of fact manner, avoiding the sensationalism that tempts many filmmakers tackling this subject. The result is a closer and more immediate connection between us and the character, which is crucial to the film's ability to make us care.
David Field is a standout as the driver for the escort agency, acting as support system when required, both emotionally and physically. He ferries Mei and her fellow sex worker Mint (Ivy Mak, vivacious, haunting) to and from bookings, and their conversations provide information and dynamics for the film.
Peter O'Brien is compelling and complex as Luke, a fascinating character blending decency and danger; his past exploits as a mercenary open the doors for Duigan to touch on issues beyond the Sydney setting, just as the university course attended by Linh (delivered by the professor played with great authority and charisma by Duigan himself), gives Duigan a chance to expose the flaws of organised religion, at one stage quoting Martin Luther, "the greatest threat to faith is reason".
This helps to set up a subtle subtext as he explores the moral questions he raises, and he closes the film with a terrific, satisfying bang, the last scene confronting us with a question about our own attitudes.
FOOTONTE: Universal coincidence: the 2012 Festival de Cannes begins the day this film is released in Australia; one of the films in the Competition is Like Someone in Love, from veteran Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami (71). It's set in Japan, about a student who works as a prostitute. Careless Love is also screening in Cannes - at the market for international buyers.
Review by Louise Keller:
John Duigan's new film is a bewitching one in which morality, lies and perceptions are canvassed in a provocative and stimulating way. In a way, it's a road movie in which the road is life and the pit stops are sexual encounters. This is in the context of the reflective and intimate narrative about a Vietnamese University student who is precariously juggling her double life as a prostitute to help her parents save their home. With a standout performance by its leading lady Nammi Le as Linh, who starts out surefooted, but loses her footing as compartmentalising her emotions becomes harder, it's a touching portrait, filled with innocence and vulnerability, while risk and danger is ever present as the consequences of playing with fire.
After flashes of a skimpily clad girl with shapely legs, the journey of the night begins with Linh taken from job to job by her jovial, ever-familiar driver Dion (David Field). The clientele is a mixed lot: there's an anxious looking man who likes to be stroked, a Japanese businessman who wants to chat and an interesting American art dealer named Luke (Peter O'Brien) who warns her: 'You're a good juggler, but you'll get caught out eventually.' There's something tangible about the way the relationship between Linh and Luke evolves: as regular client and friend. The clockwork of the night sessions continues and it is not surprising Linh yawns during her University lectures (Duigan plays her Professor.)
Audiences could be forgiven for thinking that every Sydney-sider lives in a house with a water view; the film looks fabulous with seductive shots of the harbour and environs. The complication arrives in the form of handsome part-time actor and waiter Jack (Andrew Hazzard), with whom Linh begins a relationship, even though Jack is still in the process of untangling himself from his live-in girlfriend. Jack is unaware of Linh's night-time activities, believing she is at the library each night, studying, when in fact she is keeping her clientele happy - being a good listener as well as a compliant lover.
There's something extremely appealing about Li, the petite Vietnamese with the bombshell figure and rosebud lips who seems to ride each wave as it comes. Duigan has created a strong and likeable character for his protagonist and we are with Linh throughout her tumultuous journey. Hazzard (reminiscent of a young Ethan Hawke) is excellent as Jack, while Hugo Johnstone-Burt is effective as the smarmy Seb who wants to use the information about Linh against her.
The life of an escort is not shown through rose-coloured glasses: the scene in which Linh's jaded co-worker Mint (Ivy Mak) is raped by a policeman on the bonnet of his car, is a harsh reminder of life's hypocrisies. The final scene in which the question of our own moral codes is raised resonates and is an evocative ending to an equally evocative and satisfying film.
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CARELESS LOVE (MA15+)
CAST: Nammi Le, Peter O'Brien, Andrew Hazzard, Penny McNamee, Ivy Mak, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, David Field, John Duigan, Susan Prior
PRODUCER: Jenny Day, Geoff Burton
DIRECTOR: John Duigan
SCRIPT: John Duigan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kathryn Millis
EDITOR: Mark Warner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Colin Gibson
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Antidote Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 17, 2012
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