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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 

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From the day Hester (Rabe) brings Katherine (Otto) home to help around the house on the isolated farm where she nurses a dying father (Wilson), Hesterís life changes. The young Katherine is a sensuous being, totally opposite to the repressed, lonely Hester, who inevitably becomes attached to the young woman, not in a sexual way but spiritually. Their friendship blossoms even as Hesterís father dies, leaving Hester the farm which she sells for cash, giving her enough money to give the two women ideas of exotic travels. This bliss is shattered one night after a disco party in the nearby town when Katherine hits a man while driving home in the brand new 4WD. Hester disposes of the body down the well, but after her revulsion settles, Katherine claims he is alive - and that he and she are in love. When the cash is missing, they figure the man on the road had stolen it. Neighbours report a thief in the area. It adds up. Katherine wants the man winched up; Hester is convinced heís dead. The conflict is a fatal blow to their relationship, and even as rainwater threatens to spill their secret out of the well, Hester has it sealed up - and Katherine leaves, her secret intact.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
"No short synopsis can do justice to this film (nor the book, I suspect) because it plays on so many ambiguities and suggestions. That, of course, is the joy of it for film lovers: ambiguity. It can also be a curse for commercial success, but who knows. This taut debut feature from Lang is assured in its cinematic language, powerful in its performance driven dynamics, and satisfying in its delivery of a complex emotion-based story. Lang leaves plenty of room for our own intelligence, imagination and understanding, and uses sounds to great (subtle) effect. The film is really a series of moods that Lang creates with meticulous attention to detail. She even seems to control the sun, which never shines except for a moment in the penultimate scene. In one shot, we see sunshine, but it never reaches us. In another, we get a glimpse of morning sun through a window. The two leads are both terrific, Otto quite remarkable as the visceral young thing, manipulative, sensuous, scared, complex, unfathomable. Rabe is riveting in almost every scene as the island that becomes a peninsula, only to be tossed out to sea again, her face a minimalist mirror of her heart. The storm and the landscape are symbols that serve Langís purpose well, and she has paid as much attention to the music - on several levels - as to everything else. The other touch worth noting is the short clip we see from Bonnie and Clyde - but youíll have to see the film yourself to understand why."

Review by Louise Keller:
"First-time director Samantha Lang has made a first class film which encapsulates a single vision. Itís a little like taking one long, deep breath, and feeling well satisfied. The Well has elements common to a "festival film". Like The Piano, it has a certain remoteness to it: there is a distance between the action and the viewer, minimising the emotional impact. Having said that, however, there is no doubt that it is a finely made film: the cinematography is stunning, the script is cleverly minimalist; much impact is made with silences and descriptive pictures, with only external sounds such as the clash of thunder or the dripping of the rain. It is in these moments that we are allowed to wonder what the characters are thinking. And the characters indeed make us think. They are fascinating. The total antithesis of each other, Hester and Katherine bring out the best - and the worst - in both themselves and the other. The performances of the two leads are first rate. Pamela Rabe, as the brisk, no-nonsense spinster Hester, brings a hopelessly sad yet complex quality to the role. She is a pathetic character with whom we empathise: she never has had a chance to live and she aches with loneliness. Miranda Otto delivers her best screen performance yet, and is utterly convincing as the seemingly fragile Katherine, who bewitches Hester with her spontaneity and sheer zest for life. The fine line she projects between innocence and manipulation is delicately drawn. But we donít only wonder about Katherine, we also wonder about Hester. Who is playing games with who? The production design is compelling, as is the top rate music soundtrack. A Class Australian film-making at its best."

Review by Paul Fisher:
"There's much to admire in this first feature by new film maker Samantha Lang: the way she captures the harsh beauty of rural Australia, the performance she elicits from actress Pamela Rabe, and the haunting atmosphere created. The Well is certainly a fascinating and sometimes thoughtful piece, but it remains a curiously detached and overly-ambiguous work as well. The film's main problem is with screenwriter Laura Jones, whose work has a visually observant sense, but lacks an emotional connection. On that level, The Well is not dissimilar to Jones' scripting of The Piano and her recent Portrait of a Lady, films which all dealt with sexual repression, and all were inherently subdued, disconnected works. The Well has the same problem. Technically, the film has strength, but it's a superficial kind of a strength. The relationship between the two women is never fully realised, the audience never really gets to know them, so that by the film's conclusion, what happens to them is of little interest. And with all of Jones' writing, the male characters are so under-written that the film has a real danger of alienating a male audience, thus pigeon-holing the film, regrettably, as "a woman's film". One of the major strengths of The Well is the astonishing performance of Pamela Rabe, a major, untapped screen talent who exudes the pain and inner torment of Hester with painstaking honesty. Otto, on the other hand, is less convincing, playing another repetitious character about whom little is revealed in the character's execution. Director Lang shows considerable promise. She has a mature and intelligent eye for visual detail, and there is a more developed filmmaker within her. The Well is certainly an interesting work, but one can't help feel, that from Elizabeth Jolley's fine novel, a far more insightful and resonant film was waiting to emerge."

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CAST: Miranda Otto, Pamela Rabe, Paul Chubb, Frank Wilson, Steve Jacobs, Genevieve Lemon

DIRECTOR: Samantha Lang

PRODUCER: Sandra Levy

SCRIPT: Laura Jones (adapted from the novel by Elizabeth Jolly)


EDITOR: Dany Cooper

MUSIC: Stephen Rae


RUNNING TIME: 102 mins



In Competition, Cannes Film Festival 1997

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