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DE HEER, ROLF: ALEXANDRA'S PROJECT

(UN)HAPPY TALK
Rolf De Heer can’t really say where his ideas for films come from, and like Bad Boy Bubby, his latest one comes from somewhere dark. It just started with a woman talking to a video camera, and if she’s doing that she’s unhappy, he explains to Andrew L. Urban.


Rolf de Heer hardly had time to arrange the awards for The Tracker on his mantlepiece when the phone rang with the invitation to enter the Berlin 2003 Competition with his latest film, Alexandra’s Project. No two films could be more dissimilar, either; The Tracker is set in Australia’s outback and a past troubled by the impact of the white newcomers on the indigenous blacks.

Alexandra’s Project is set within a suburban house in the present, and the characters are troubled by the failures of a marriage. To call it a psychological/sexual thriller is to begin imposing parameters on the film, which boldly defies them. Yes, it’s a psychological thriller, even though there is a gun involved. Yes, it’s a film with several sexually charged scenes. But neither the psychology nor the sexuality are easy to describe nor explain - out of context.

It takes place on Steve’s (Gary Sweet) birthday, an ordinary mid-management executive in suburban Adelaide, his two young kids waking with colourfully wrapped presents. The day ends with the unspooling of a video tape made by his deeply unhappy wife (Helen Buday), and the contents of the tape are best described by the Australian vernacular, as ‘spilling her guts’. But Alexandra’s birthday present – her project – turns out to be even more than just what’s on the tape. With the help of the security specialist neighbour (played with earthy credibility by Bogdan Koca), Alexandra has made sure Steve is locked – or imprisoned - inside the house, and her shocking, confronting revelations also include her future plans. Steve can only watch in pain and confusion . . .

"a tense, unpredictable and unsettling work"

Challenging subject matter and demanding for the lead actors, Alexandra’s Project boasts two central performances of the kind often described as ‘brave’ and is a tense, unpredictable and unsettling work that will generate debate and word of mouth.

Where did this come from, asks de Heer himself. “The other day I had reason to look at the script for Bad Boy Bubby (1993) and I had the same thoughts about some of that…where did that come from? But,” continues de Heer, “some aspects of it are having lived a life, some are what ifs… I often just let my mind drift and make connections.”

But he can pinpoint the starting motivation for Alexandra’s Project, some five years ago. “I had this single idea to make an extra low budget film, using all the short ends I’d accumulated in the fridge… this idea of a woman talking to a video camera. That was all … but obviously, if she was doing that she was unhappy.”

He was in post production on The Tracker (which also stars Gary Sweet in their first but creatively successful and professionally amicable collaboration) as he wrote the script, and “as all scripts do, it got going and ended up not so low budget and more involved…”

The compulsion to make Alexandra’s Project gathered speed as de Heer helped the formation of Fandango’s Australian based production arm, for whom Alexandra’s Project was their own first project. And de Heer’s 10th feature.

Published May 8, 2003

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