Steve (Gary Sweet), an average enough mid-management executive, lives in suburban Adelaide with his wife, Alexandra (Helen Buday), and their two young kids. On this otherwise average morning it’s his birthday and the kids wake him with colourfully wrapped presents. But his day ends with the unspooling of a video tape – a sort of electronic letter - made by his deeply unhappy wife, and the devastating contents of the tape change his life.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A penetrating, haunting and powerful psychological thriller, Alexandra’s Project demonstrates the adage that sometimes less is more, even in film. It’s also a case of not how big your budget is but how you use it. Rolf de Heer’s script is basically a tour de force for two actors, but he’s translated the script onto the screen using all the tools of the cinematic trade – like sound designer James Currie’s exceptionally effective soundscape – and ends up with thoroughly compelling, riveting cinema. We are taken deep into the most intimate aspects of a relationship, its sexual battlefield, with uncompromising candour. Gary Sweet and Helen Buday deliver extraordinary performances; Sweet watching the video on a tv set for the most part, every emotion written on his face without the benefit of working off another actor in front of him. Buday likewise, working to a camera not a person as she bares her soul, her breasts, her whole body and her anguish. It’s often confronting but always sincere material, and as an exploration of the dead core of what might seem on the surface to be an average marriage, it is not only acute but unique. Bogdan Koca brings a world-weary calm to his character as the neighbour, Bill, in what is a critical if small role, and the entire (but minimal) crew make valuable contributions to this provocative modern tragedy.
Review by Louise Keller:
A tense and dramatic psycho-thriller that mostly takes place in a single day, Alexandra’s Project is a dense and confronting film that savagely explores the notions of sex within a marriage. Rolf De Heer thrives on cutting-edge confrontation, and just as he did in Dance Me To My Song, Alexandra’s Project leads us to an emotionally risky and uncomfortable place, opening windows and doors into the souls of a man and a woman in crisis. With echoes and resonances from Neil LaBute’s In The Company of Men, which also dealt with the callous toying of emotions, we are jolted into a harsh, unforgiving world filled with raw pain. Shocking, engrossing, terrifying and thought provoking, here is a film that invites dossiers of discussion. I suspect feminists will feel uneasy about its theme, and there’s no question that it is tough in every way. The premise is simple, yet what transpires is not. Although the opening sequences show a seemingly happy family, there is a dark undercurrent that swells and lurches, indicating that something is about to happen. The seeds that later will ricochet in our minds, are planted from the start – the impenetrable home security system, the ‘hairy garden gnome’ neighbour who incessantly waters his garden, the conversation Steve has with his daughter about a cigarette being an imprisoned man’s last request. Every little item in the script counts, and the more attention you pay, the greater the payoff. What is togetherness? How does love and desire match body and mind? What are the acceptable sexual boundaries for a married couple and how can the communication process of this intimate part of our lives be honest? An extraordinary piece of cinema in that most of the action between the two lead characters is shot as a one-sided conversation, the performances by Gary Sweet and Helen Buday are exceptional. Sweet is superb, portraying the perfect physical male specimen, whose fully nude taut body is shown in the early scenes doing push ups. Handsome and successful, he appears to have it all. As Sweet’s Steve watches the video tape, we see the pain painted on his face. From curiosity to anguish, uncertainty to revelation followed by hurt, anger and disgust, we feel all these emotions with Steve as events unfold. Buday’s unhappy Alexandra hides a multitude of complexities as she slowly reveals the details of her secret project, and with it her naked body. These are brave performances from both actors, whose strip naked is far more than flesh deep. Bogdan Koca’s small, yet crucial presence as the neighbour is powerful in that it inflicts substance to the deception. Devastating but compelling cinema, you must discover Alexandra’s Project for yourself.
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Favourable: 2 (Andrew, Louise)
ROLF DE HEER INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban
ALEXANDRA'S PROJECT (MA)
CAST: Gary Sweet, Helen Buday, Bogdan Koca
PRODUCER: Julie Ryan, Domenico Procacci, Rolf de Heer
DIRECTOR: Rolf de Heer
SCRIPT: Rolf de Heer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Jones ACS
EDITOR: Tania Nehme
MUSIC: Graham Tardif; SOUND DESIGN: James Currie
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ian Jobson, Phil Macpherson
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 8, 2003