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HURRAH: GRIEF DISPELLED

It was boots and all at Wentworth, when ANDREW L. URBAN visited the set of the ironically titled film, Hurrah: but the heavy weather was coming from . . . just heavy weather. The talk on set was of love, eroticism and strange people.

A silently snarling dingo greets me as the front door opens in suburban Wentworth, "The Town on Two Rivers" in the darkest corner of New South Wales, near the Victorian border. Iíd flown by light plane and driven by heavy car to get there, so I was stuffed; so was the dingo.

Its owners were away somewhere exotic, and the house now housed Julie Marlow, the producer of Hurrah, who completely ignored the beast. I was shown a pair of gleaming new Wellington boots which had been bought specially for me at a local get-it-all, so I could walk about on the set, a half hour drive into the nowhere.

The arid landscapes needed for the script had been turned into mudflats after unseasonable rain that fell on the location - and was still threatening.

The title of the film refers to the crumbling shed

(The specially graded, long straight track to the shack which is the central location for much of the film was waterlogged. Clever camerawork from Nino Martinetti turned the puddles into heat shimmer; necessity is the mother of invention.)

The title of the film refers to the crumbling shed, a desolate, rusting hovel that some lark had christened Hurrah in a fit of irony. The shack and its outhouse seem to have been there for ever, thanks to a brilliant art department, which has aged everything from discarded tyres to junky furniture. Even the dust is old. This is where Raoul (played by Marton Csokas) has come to seek refuge in isolation, drained and devastated by grief, after his fianceeís horrific death - in a meat factory.

His dog is dying and heís disconsolate when one day a stunning young woman turns up at the end of the track in a red Jaguar and a dress to match, and tells him a shaky story about her husband and a lover. Can she stay? Her name is Julia (played by Tushka Bergen) and she can.

She has a secret far more intriguing than her confessed past

Juliaís sensuality, coupled with a certain mystery, soon has an effect on the doggedley downbeat Raoul, and as he begins to fall in love, so does she - but she has a secret that is far more intriguing than her confessed past, which she is forced to reveal when local rednecks threaten their peace. And then one day, she disappears even more suddenly than she appeared. Raoul, however, has learnt to love again.

This intense two hander, with its share of erotic scenes and so called magic realism, is described by director Frank Shields as "the best script Iíve seen in 20 years." The script is adapted from David Owenís book by writer John Wolstenholme, who is also co-producer. The tall Englishman, who has produced film and tv dramas like The Krays and The Inside Man, has his own personal experience to draw on for this script, after a girlfriend died suddenly. That was several years ago now, and he has since married, but the trauma of the event served as a reference point for Raoulís grief.

But any discussion about Juliaís secret - and the central surprise the film delivers - strikes a difficulty. The difficulty boils down to who and what she really is, an agent of healing. But is she real or something Raoulís feverish brain conjures up for his own salvation? Or, indeed, something else?

Standing knee deep in mud outside the shack specially built on a desolate landscape, with wind and rain splattering us all, it is a strangely apposite question.

"I donít do nudity Ö" actress, Tushka Bergen

Inside, the two actors are shooting a scene in the kitchen which has Raoul heating up a mixture of tinned corn, tinned onion and tinned kidney casserole - with Tabasco sprinkled over it, to kick the tastebuds in the guts. The smell wafts across the set and sets off involuntary spasms of hunger in the crew.

Tushka Bergen, snatching conversations between takes, is challenged by the love making scenes to come. "Itís my biggest challenge," she says frankly. "I donít do nudity Ö weíve talked about it and itíll be very tastefully done, lots of shadows. Itís been my biggest hurdle."

She says she loved the script and the character: "I just loved the idea of playing someone who is totally there to do good. Iíve never played someone like that, someone so focused on someone elseís happiness."

"The grieving process is the same for everyone." actor, Marton Csokas

For Csokas, the New Zealand-born actor making a name for himself in the tv series Shortland Street as well as movies like Broken English, Raoul is a real challenge. "In the beginning Iíd catch glimpses of him but never the complete character. So itís been an organic process. I had a couple of close friends die when I was 18, and the grieving process is the same for everyone. He is running, but he also wants to find solace - he isolates himself but wants to be close to someone."

That ambivalence is a major element in Hurrah, enhanced by ambiguity.

"I love the fact that the woman is the catalyst," director Frank Shields

Director Frank Shields says he hadnít read anything as original "since The Crying game. I love the fact that the woman is the catalyst, and how she gets into the male psyche. And heís a tough kid from the suburbs, but instead of going into the toilet to cry in private, heís gone into the bush. Heís at once tough and sensitive."

The drafty shack is ready for another take, as Julia and Raoul seize each other up after their first meeting, as Julia asks to stay the night.

"Itís for The English Patient audienceÖ" producer Julie Marlow

Producer Julie Marlow is excited by the way the film is coming together. She feels it has a strong male character and explores aspects of male emotions. . . it requires a huge outpouring of grief. It also has these erotic scenes . . .so, dare I say it, itís for The English Patient audienceÖ"

Indeed, someone jokingly referred to the film as The Australian Patient. But as writer Wolstenholme says, the core idea of "something greater than all of us out there," is universal.

The Universal Patient, then?

Anticipated Australian release late 1998

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The specially built outback shack, Hurrah

Tushka Bergen as Julia


Frank Shields, John Wolstenholme, Julie Marlow, on set


Marton Csokas as Raoul


"Love heals all..."

HURRAH

Executive Producers: David Rowe, Les Lithgow

Producers: Julie Marlow, John Wolstenholme

Director: Frank Shields

Writers: John Wolstenholme, Frank Shields

Distribution: Total Film and Television,

International sales: Mayfair Entertainment

Synopsis:
After the tragic death of his fiancee, Raoul turns his back on everything he has known. In an attempt to exorcise his grief and to isolate himself from the world, he buys a dilapidated home on dry parched land in the middle of nowhere called Hurrah. When Julia arrives after crashing her car into Hurrah's gatepost, the layers of mystery surrounding her presence are slowly peeled away as she reveals her story - she is on the run from both her husband and lover in the city. Unaware of anything except each other, Raoul and Julia begin a passionate affair. It turns to love, and it is then that Julia's true identity, and her mission are revealed.







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