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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday, November 27, 2014 - Edition No 925 

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IN A SAVAGE LAND

SYNOPSIS:
In A Savage Land is the story of a newly married anthropologist husband and wife team Phillip and Evelyn (Martin Donovan and Maya Stange) who travel to an island group in New Guinea to study the sexual mores of a group of villagers. They arrive as World War II begins. Their relationship begins to break down when the woman realises her pompous husband is wrongly interpreting the research to further his own academic ambitions. After a traumatic incident involving the chief's daughter, she enlists the help of a buccaneer pearl trader, Mick (Rufus Sewell), to travel to another island where she intends to research a village of headhunters - alone - and begins to fall in love with Mick. By the time she returns to her husband, he is seriously ill and the Japanese are poised to invade their island, ostensibly on the way to New Guinea and Australia. Evacuated from the Trobriands, Evelyn loses contact with Mick. Back in Adelaide after the war as a published anthropologist, Evelyn hopes she'll one day meet Mick again.

"A magnificent film, In A Savage Land evokes a time and a place with such natural authority it sometimes feels as though we are watching a candid documentary on a wild and exotic remote island where the mud is real, not art directed. However, the production design is indeed superb, seamlessly and unobtrusively yet completely immersing us in this other world. The script unfolds the various aspects of the story with intelligence and care, introducing us to the characters through their actions. Rufus Sewell is outstanding as the pearl trader whose hardened solo heart tentatively responds to Evelyn’s intelligent and strong femininity. Martin Donovan convinces as the pompous husband – but like all the characters, he is not simply a label. Maya Stange is at once sweet and strong, expressive and effective. Many islanders have speaking roles, too, and they give riveting performances, ranging from the timid to the terrifying. Actors have always responded well to director Bill Bennett, and with this film, Bennett shows his journalistic discipline as well as how well he can sculpt a single, large and complex vision – albeit with the help of his co-writer and producer wife, Jennifer. The film enjoys that unity of vision in every department and in every sense, from the graphics in the credits and title designs to the use of a wide palette of extraordinary music and sound which combines with Danny Ruhlmann’s fabulous photography. It’s a visually rewarding and thought provoking film, a film that instantly transports us to this other world –not at the outer edge of the galaxy but right here, and tangibly real. Through the characters, we touch on issues and emotions that are universal and concern our daily lives, but seeing it in this culturally divergent setting, we see it all in a different perspective. The release version is subtly different to the one I first saw, which had a more melancholy ending. After much debate, Bennett has gently re-shaped the film's final 20 minutes, cutting about nine minutes and giving the ending a tad more romantic optamism, which delivers a better payoff for most audiences. In the process, we lose a plot point or two, but this doesn't detract from the scope and craftsmanship of this superbly creative piece of cinema. "
Andrew L. Urban

"Intellectually challenging, culturally fascinating and romantic in the true sense, Bill Bennett's In a Savage Land is a richly satisfying and haunting work. It's a little like opening the cover of an adventure book, and tumbling down the rapids of life into a dangerous, uncertain world saturated with colour and contradictions. The story engages, the images stimulate the senses and our imagination is let loose. Set on a tentative backdrop of impending war, In A Savage Land is more than an adventure story. A genuine intrigue of another world and another time, it is an absorbing exploration of culture, taboos, traditions and superstitions where the discovery of self and love is key. Bennett's concept and stylised execution is glorious, bravely embracing an ambitious and very different genre than has previously been explored in Australian filmmaking. See it for Danny Ruhlmann's beautiful cinematography, Nick McCallum's seductive production design and David Bridie's evocative, tempestuous score resounding with primal rhythms of a primitive society. The cast is superb: Rufus Sewell, disarmingly roguish, has never been better; Martin Donovan portrays the pretentious husdand with complexity and depth, and Maya Stange is impressive in a demanding, key role. Watch out for Max Cullen: he is delicious as the sexist colonial with the double standards. On first viewing I was absorbed; the second time around I was enthralled. Visually splendid, In A Savage Land charters the waters of human behaviour, putting fundamental differences of human nature under the microscope. It has a melancholy that lingers."
Louise Keller

"Bill Bennett proved with Kiss or Kill he was a director with a real 'eye' and a flair for the story-telling craft. It's therefore rather disappointing to find his latest, In a Savage Land, strangely ponderous and unsatisfying. Clearly intended as a kind of English Patient in the South Pacific; it lacks the resonance of Anthony Minghella’s film. The love story (the heart of the film) fails to really engage because the script doesn’t build sympathy for any of the three main characters. Certainly, more could have been done in the way of plotting and character development. Evelyn is obviously the heroine of the piece but she comes off as arch and cold. Phillip is an aloof bookworm absorbed in his own career and Mick comes across as a cynical profiteer who acts from inexplicable motives. But the film is ravishing to look at, and the depiction of village life and ceremony is always interesting. Maya Stange is mostly effective but a little forced as Evelyn, while Rufus Sewell gives his best as Mick, but is handicapped by what seems to be a dubbed American accent. Martin Donovan is fine, even though his role soon fades into obscurity and Max Cullen makes a welcome cameo appearance. In a Savage Land is an ambitious and at times beautiful film; but it lacks the real emotional punch needed to make it a truly memorable romantic drama."
David Edwards



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

Andrew L. Urban talks to writer/director

Bill Bennett, co-writer Jennifer Bennett and the three stars of
IN A SAVAGE LAND

IN A SAVAGE LAND (MA 15+)
(Australia)

CAST: Rufus Sewell, Maya Stange, Martin Donovan, Andrew S. Gilbert, Max Cullen, John Howard

DIRECTOR: Bill Bennett

PRODUCERS: Bill & Jennifer Bennett

SCRIPT: Bill & Jennifer Bennett

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Danny Ruhlmann ACS

EDITOR: Henry Dangar

MUSIC: David Bridie

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nick McCallum

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 21, 1999

VIDEO RELEASE: February 16, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video







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