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Australia 2007
Directed by
Peter Duncan
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Unfinished Sky

Synopsis: John Woldring (William McInnes) is a farmer living an isolated life in rural Queensland. One day, a woman,Tahmeena (Monic Hendrickx), staggers onto his property, beaten and bleeding and unable to speak English.  He reluctantly takes her in and gradually the two begin to relate to each other. Meanwhile the local policeman (David Field) and publican (Bille Brown) are on the hunt for an illegal refugee.

Unfinished Sky, a co-production between Holland and Australia, is a remake of a Dutch film called The Polish Bride (1998) with the setting changed to Australia (the film was shot in Beaudesert, south of Brisbane) and the woman fleeing sex traffickers changed to an Afghani. If superficially the transposition has possibilities, in writer-director Peter Duncan’s hands it doesn’t come off.

There are multiple reasons for this.  First there is its heavy-handedness. William McInnes's farmer is an archetypal taciturn recluse, eating canned food, many days unshaven and wearing dirty clothes (despite the fact that he drives a late model ute in very good condition and lives in an ample homestead of superior quality). Clearly this is a character who is going to undergo transformation. So when Monic Hendrickx’s improbably attractive middle aged refugee stumbles into his life we know exactly where things are headed. Sure enough Duncan takes us through the clichés of two such strangers getting to know each other - he gruffly resistant, she tentative but winning him over with her sensitivity. This hackneyed scenario over-rides any relevance to Australia’s refugee crisis of the time (explored with not a whole lot more success the same year in Lucky Miles

I haven’t seen the original film (in which Hendrickx also played the female lead) but I assume that the sex trafficking sub-plot was carried over from it. Once again Duncan introduces this with heavy-handed signaling as Bille Brown’s creepy publican and David Field’s menacing cop early in the piece sow the seeds for the Eastern Promises (2006) style thuggery to come. The trouble here is that not only is it experientially difficult to accept this scenario as a possibility in a small country town (maybe yes, if it was some Mississippian backwater, but there is absolutely no attempt to reconcile it with the staple reality of Australian bonhomie), it doesn’t jibe with the blossoming romance which is the film’s main agenda, This is the case both psychologically (despite serious trauma Tahmeena recovers her feminine graces remarkably quickly) or tonally (it suddenly becomes nastily violent). As for the rote happy ending, how this comes to pass is also unexplained by the plot).

There are apparently two systemic problems at play here. One is the seemingly self-harming tendency of Australian film to favour angst-ridden stories as subject matter. The other is its preference for plot-oriented Hollywood film over mood-oriented European film. Had Duncan jettisoned the entire sex-trafficking business and concentrated on giving the burgeoning cross-cultural relationship some real depth, using the very effective jigsaw puzzle metaphor that is the source of the title as a centre-piece, Unfinished Sky could have been a truly substantial film




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