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Andrew L. Urban talks to Samantha Lang, the only female and youngest director represented on the 1997 Cannes Film Festival Competition list.

There were four different endings contemplated for The Well, and three were discarded because "one was highly melodramatic but a bit tricksy, another version was too sentimental and a bit dull, and a third was too dark and also a bit tricksy," says director Samantha Lang, who makes her feature film directing debut with this muted, unusual psychological thriller.

"The need for love can corrupt you," Samantha Lang on The Well

The film was invited to Official Competition at Cannes 1997, which was nerve-racking for Lang, but also highly valuable. "It means I can work with more confidence, and it opens doors," she says.

The Well is about "how the need for love can corrupt you," says Lang. "We wanted the structure to be like a string which we tie in a know, and the ending unties it. I feel this is a story you need to see - the meaning is infused through the whole film, so itís not very American and doesnít have a three act structure."

Indeed, when Lang finished the assembly, she rang producer Sandra Levy "and I told her this is a very odd film - itís ambiguous, mysterious, as well as a psychological drama."

"The Well is about two very different women at different ages and with seemingly nothing in common"

Adapted from Elizabeth Jollyís novel by Laura Jones, The Well is about two very different women at different ages and with seemingly nothing in common. They meet by chance and initially thrive on their new friendship, but as time passes, each discovers that appearances can be deceptive. An accident with serious consequences seals their fate.

Like Lang, Levy was fascinated by the notion "that a great hunger for love can turn bad when it becomes corrupted by greed and possession."

Miranda Otto stars as Katherine, the young, sensuous girl who is taken into Hesterís (Pamela Rabe) home to help around the house.

"I think they wanted young blood" Samantha Lang on directing The Well

"We werenít absolutely faithful to the book," says Lang, who was invited to direct the adaptation by producer Sandra Levy. "I think they wanted young blood, says Lang, who at 29 is just 18 months out of the Australian Film Television and Radio School. She subsequently read the book "but it was the script that formed the way we made the film. It had a rich visual language and the relationship between the two women was something I felt I could work with. Every time I read it I felt an impulse to explore, and I got more and more clues how to construct the film.

"I particularly wanted to make a film with images that describe the way you feel." Samantha Lang

"I liked the idea of impossible love," says Lang. "And itís not about sex. I found it deeply moving and I was drawn to the subtleties. I always cull from different parts of film culture, but I particularly wanted to make a film with images that describe the way you feel - images that convey subtext, using the camera to add extra meaning Ö creating atmosphere. I wasnít going for naturalism but I was trying to find a reality for the characters, and wanted the locations to mirror Hesterís strange character."

The dry blue-grey bush of the Sydney set and the eerie, gothic landscape of the high country provide a backdrop that serve to make the characters stand out in stark relief.

Laura Jonesí script, says Lang, has a very rich visual language and the relationship between the two women was something I felt I could work with . . . the older woman, her repressed sexuality, and the younger girl who was always dancing and the older womanís response to that in that she had never used her body Ö"

To Lang, it was a leap of faith by Levy and writer Laura Jones to ask her, "a newcomer," to direct the film. She hardly ever refers to the film making process in the first person singular: itís always "we", and this is echoed in her directorís notes, in which she refers to having got through "a tough and emotionally charged shoot" with the help of "a team who have as much passion for telling the story as you do."

Langís debut feature follows several short films, both as writer/director and producer/director, including her much applauded 26 minute drama, Audacious (1995), starring Dee Smart, John Polson and Aden Young, winner (among other prizes) of the Dendy Short Fiction Award.

Langís next project is another adaptation, this of Dorothy Porterís novel, The Monkeyís Mask, to be produced by Bridgit Ikin.

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Samantha Lang



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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