I wanted to like this film (I want to like most new Australian films),
but I didn't like this one. In fact I almost nodded off. And that was
after I almost called for the projectionist when the film started,
because I thought we'd begun with the second reel! The first scene is
like a "flash forward" to a time well after Hester and Katherine, the
two main characters, meet. That scene is a real mistake. It throws you
into the middle of a relationship which needs to unfold gracefully and
gradually. I never really caught up. So, for me, the crucial
relationship between Hester and Katherine had no foundation, and lacked
Pamela Rabe and Miranda Otto are two of my favourite actors, and their
performances have their moments. But the script, by Laura Jones (who
scripted High Tide, An Angel at my Table,The Portrait of a Lady and
Oscar and Lucinda) doesn't give them much help. The book, by Elizabeth
Jolley, must be more meaty than the script to have been so popular.
In this film, we see many scenes which look beautiful and intriguing.
But they just leave us more clueless than ever about why things are
happening. Hester's background is fascinating, and yet we see little of
the time before Katherine. The house she lived in is gorgeous, and
ideal for a film like this, but as soon as they can, the director and
the screenwriter move us out into a smaller, less attractive cottage.
Hester's father, played by Frank Wilson, looks to be a promising
character, but he dies early on. My favourite character is Molly, the
maid who is displaced by Katherine - but we only see her twice. All the
interesting bits of detail are taken away from us too soon.
This would indicate that the director doesn't care so much about the
characters or the story, and is going more for mood.. But we don't get
mood - we get style. The cinematographer, Mandy Walker, has done some
fine work. She shot Love Serenade, and for my money her pictures were
the best thing in that film. She also shot the little-seen Life, which
was a marvellously inventive film visually. Here, the filmmakers have
gone for a special kind of film and film processing to achieve a unique
look for the film. But basically, to the viewer, it means the whole
film looks bluish. This works well for Miranda Otto, whose character is
buring up with energy and vibrance, and can stand some toning down. But
for Pamela Rabes' already-subdued character, it is nearly fatal. It
seems to sap the performance of humanity, making her more of a ghost
than she needs to be. The style has simply overshadowed the characters.
Pamela Rabe just manages to overcome this handicap in the very last
scene, and it is a great relief when she does.
Time and again, two talented actors struggle valiently against the
difficulties this film presents them, but the obstacles are too great.
One key scene illustrates how they fail, and the film fails them.
Katherine and Hester watch Bonnie & Clyde on TV. Katherine imitates
the actors and Hester tries to join in the fun. I found myself thinking
"Gee Bonnie and Clyde was a good film, I wish I was watching that!"
Plus my companion pointed out how brilliantly Arthur Penn introduced
the two main characters in the first scene of Bonnie and Clyde. Yet
there we were, half-way through The Well, and still not sure of the
characters or their relationship. Who are these women? Why are they
like they are? These questions, as far as I am concerned, are still
It seems to me that for this film to succeed, we either need more, or
much less. We need more detail of character and motivation if the film
is to succed as a good mystery tale. Or we need less story and more
lyricism if the film is to succeed as visual poetry. As it is, we are
stuck, confused, in the area between.