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The film The Turning is based on the book of short stories of the same name by Tim Winton. It includes seventeen overlapping stories of childhood and teenage angst, decisions and repercussions, addiction, love and longing, second thoughts and mid-life regret set in the brooding small-town world of coastal Western Australia.
Beautifully crafted, and as tender as they are confronting, these elegiac stories examine the darkness and frailty of ordinary people and celebrate the moments when the light shines through.
The director Robert Connolly took the unique approach of asking 17 different groups to make separate films out of the individual but overlapping stories and sent each group a copy of the book with no brief about how to proceed.
All 17 stories interweave in their respective narratives, creating an intriguing and twisting central plot-line that often centres around the enigmatic character of Vic Lang, a man consumed and obsessed by his past.
The result is 17 films that could stand alone. It is only with careful thought that the viewer can discern the interlacing stories and realise that the character Vic who keeps on cropping up in different stories is actually the same character despite being played by different actors of different ethnic background. One of the films in particular, Fog, was so engrossing that I forgot altogether that I was watching a series of short films and when it ended I was surprised and had to regather my thoughts to continue with the progression into the next film. I was fortunate to see the film accompanied by a speech by the director Robert Connolly. As he said, Australian films have been flamboyant such as Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Muriel’s Wedding, followed by a series of ‘gritty’ films about the underbelly of Australian society such as The Boys. This compilation of short films, The Turning, is a celebration of the breadth and maturity of Australian film today.
Connolly told us that Rose Byrne loved the short story of the same title, The Turning, that she flew herself from the USA to Australia to take the role of Rae in that short film. Rae’s life is one of boredom, alcoholic oblivion, and gross domestic violence by her husband Max. As we watch, Max becomes increasingly violent towards Rae and eventually bashes her repeatedly and rapes her. It was an intensely discomforting short film to watch (even as I write this I’m fighting nausea on reflection of that particular scene) but Rose did an excellent job with her portrayal of Rae. I longed for Rae to take their two daughters and leave Max before he returned from his drinking binge. It seems that Rae turns to Jesus at the end of the film and I’m glad for the solace that this will bring her but I wish that she had turned to a shelter for battered women as well! Later there is a short film called Family in which the wife-beater Max suffers greatly in a ghastly shark attack and I wish that the film makers had made it clear to us that this was the same character and then we the audience could have enjoyed the catharsis.
As an aside, in the story Cockleshell the character Agnes seems to be the victim of sexual abuse from her father and the story ends with her burning their house down. This shares similarities with the story Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and as I read Jasper Jones I could feel the influence of Tim Winton on Silvey’s writing and now I wonder if he took the idea for his novel from the short story Cockleshell.
Overall I enjoyed the clever and interesting depictions of these short stories and I recommend the film, particularly to those who;