Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is just 16, but her life isn't sweet - and she has been kissed. In fact, she's been doing the kissing, with her mum's (Olivia Pigeot) no-hoper boyfriend. The kiss becomes something of a kiss of death for the mother-daughter relationship right then, and Heidi runs away from their Canberra low-rent home, catching a bus to Jindabyne at the foot of the resort-driven mountains. She is befriended by the motel keeper (Lynette Curran) whose son's mini-flat is empty - while he's in jail. Desperate not to be alone, she uses her newfound, sexually awakend body to make contact with the world. Well, men...well, boys, actually. She takes a shine to one young man who's different, though, Joe (Sam Worthington), the son of a local farmer and a tad more worthwhile than the rest. They are tentatively drawn to each other in a complex journey that is filled with misunderstandings and painful realisations. But the process does help them understand the need for real emotional attachment.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's something magical about the look and feel of Cate Shortland's debut drama Somersault, as it captures the icy cold chill of a young girl's emotional demons. Shortland uses colours and music to create an emotional density, while the wintry Jindabyne settings offer a sense of remoteness. Somersault is a complex film about concealed emotions. Emotions that are churning, weeping, waiting to be discovered.
Shortland's script often feels painfully honest; her protagonist Heidi is emotionally confused, using promiscuity as a bandaid. She is drawn to the intimacies of sex mostly to avoid being alone. Seemingly oblivious to the consequences, Heidi is living for the moment, her sexuality her only asset.
At times reminiscent of a young Nicole Kidman, Abbie Cornish gives a remarkable performance that is both internal, yet communicative. Epitomising a little girl lost, Cornish's Heidi is provocative, playful, moody and defiant. Living in her own isolated world, she dips into past memories through her treasured book of collages and photos. When she meets Sam Worthington's Joe, there is an instant connection, but Joe's emotions are wound up like a tight coil. Worthington has great charisma and their onscreen relationship ignites like an electric current. But emotionally, they are both at a loss, and the scene in which Heidi swallows a bowl of hot chillies in the local Chinese restaurant, is a powerful one, using the shock self-destructive tactics as an act of self-loathing.
All the relationships are nicely developed and evolve naturally. It feels real when Heidi tells Bianca, her co-worker at the BP servo, she feels sure she does not want her to get the job. It is subsequently rather touching when Bianca includes and involves Heidi in her family gatherings. But nothing is simple. The entire cast is excellent with Lynnette Curran as Heidi's sympathetic landlady and Olivia Pigeot in a small, but important role as her mother.
The great strength of Somersault is its ability to draw us into the reality of its characters. While we may not always like them, we understand them and their insecurities, and we care what happens to them. Shortland's assured direction confidently paints bold strokes onto its emotional canvass. It's a thought provoking film whose journey is often confronting and ultimately satisfying.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perhaps the most dangerous exercise in filmmaking is to make the audience disapprove of your central characters, and Cate Shortland lives dangerously. When we meet Heidi (Abbie Cornish) she's making a blatant sexual advance on her mother's layabout boyfriend, thinking mum's gone out. Mum's watching. The row is dreadful and Heidi leaves. Neither of the three characters we've met so far comes out looking good; you don't have to be sanctimonious to disapprove - and it's more than the brazen kiss. It's the context in which it happens, the moral environment and the emotional wasteland of the house that we sense.
Heidi is soon alone in the streets of regional NSW, trying to survive. Our sympathies are engaged, but sparingly; Shortland uses cinematic tools to shows us her inner state while we ponder her outer fate. Vulnerable and still half way between girl and young woman, Heidi makes wrong choices with ease. She seems to have very limited controls, making her decisions childish, but because they are sexual, they are adult at the same time. People misunderstand her and the result is pathetic.
Joe comes into this scenario with moral fibre and decency flying like a flag, but this is a temporary or changeable arrangement in his make up. He's a confused boy - which is firmly confirmed in one of the film's least warranted scenes, in which a drunk Joe imagines his problem with relating to Heidi may be one of a previously untested sexual orientation.
This scene involves a quietly gay local chap called Richard (Erik Thomson), who with Irene (Lynette Curran), provide us with the only likeable characters in the film, both supportive, the former to Joe, the latter to Heidi. Both are world weary and hurt, but genuine and decent. We understand them better than we understand Heidi or Joe.
Shortland's film is intense and often well observed, but she too often decides to cut away from scenes before they are fully realised emotionally. This tends to distance us from the drama and the characters; we are forced to fantasise about how some key moments play out. (For instance, when Irene finally takes the initiative and decides to call Heidi's mum on the phone. We don't share that key moment, and the emotional continuity is missing.)
Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington carry the film with nuanced and deeply felt characterisations, but the film's selection for Un Certain Regard at Cannes (2004) may push expectations of the film to unrealistic levels. It's a brave and well crafted film, but we miss the profound connections that the premise holds out.
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ABBIE CORNISH INTERVIEW
CAST: Abbie Cornish, Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran, Erik Thomson, Hollie Andrew, Leah Purcell, Olivia Pigeot, Blake Pittman
PRODUCER: Anthony Anderson
DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland
SCRIPT: Cate Shortland
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Humphreys
EDITOR: Scott Gray
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Melinda Doring
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 16, 2004