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Somersault
Australia 2004
Directed by Cate Shortland
Running time 106 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
4 stars


Synopsis: At just 16 years of age, Heidi (Abbie Cornish) finds herself caught between the quickly fading memories of childhood and a wide world that is just waiting to claim her. When a family misunderstanding prematurely forces Heidi to venture out into that world, she chooses to go to a nearby snow resort to chase up an old flame. The meeting falls through and Heidi has to find a way to survive based on her limited life experience.

Cate Shortland has something to offer in her film-making that is more European in its flavour than what is often categorised as particularly Australian. Firstly, it's not a comedy, secondly it's not set in the sunshine and thirdly it's not afraid to say that there are problems that we are not always willing to face. As far as I'm concerned, it's about time we threw out the definition of what makes an Australian story. Surely if we live here and have breathed the air, we couldn't do anything else but imbue our stories with the spirit of what it is to be Australian.

With a script that was seven years in development, and a team that have worked closely together on a number of short films, you would hope that they would be able to offer us something out of the ordinary. And they do. As a first feature, Shortland and her team have delivered an extraordinary film.

In choosing Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington to play the two lead roles, we are presented with two young actors who embody the confusion and bravado of their stage of life. Abbie Cornish superbly plays this young girl who still experiences the sensory world in all it's glory. Unfortunately, Heidi must come of age and the road to adulthood is not an easy one.

Setting the story in the snowy surrounds of Jindabyne allowed Shortland and her production team to create a world that is both beautiful and harsh at the same time. Colours are unashamedly used in a painterly way to represent emotions and symbolic language is everywhere you care to look.

There is something else that Cate Shortland has achieved that so often eludes Australian film-makers. She appears to be extremely savvy when it comes to marketing her film. People are talking about Somersault. There's a buzz that is more usually reliant on the involvement of at least one high profile actor. I've read more articles and seen more interviews about this film than I cannot remember having seen for similar Australian films made on a similar budget.

It's not an easy film to watch. Half way through, I didn't know if I could bear to continue to see Heidi struggling to retain her childish wonder in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. I should have taken some solace in the film's title. To somersault; to perform an acrobatic movement in which a person turns head over heels in the air or on the ground and lands on their feet. Characters do land on their feet, but not necessarily in the way you might expect or even hope for. But then, that's life.





 

 

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