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The Waiting City

Australia 2009
Directed by
Claire McCarthy
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

The Waiting City

Synopsis: Ben (Joel Edgerton) and Fiona (Radha Mitchell) are a seemingly happy but childless Australian couple waiting to adopt a baby from India. With the drawn-out process almost over, they head to Calcutta to await finalisation of papers and to take 2-year-old Lakshmi home. As bureaucratic obstacles slow everything up, cracks begin to appear in their relationship while the mystical elements of India serve to allow them to explore deeper psychological and spiritual dimensions of their lives and relationship.

This is the first Australian film to be shot entirely in India, and with the frenetic Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) as the setting, it is totally in-your-face authentic. Director McCarthy has spent some years working in orphanages in India, so had access to these rarely seen institutions. Having visited India myself, I really was impressed by the way cinematographer Denson Baker captures the madness and magic of this extraordinary country in a way that at once fascinates and repels. Within the first half hour of the movie we are introduced to several archetypal Indian experiences - the frenzy at the airport, the need to grease every transaction with a tip, the illness so easily brought on by careless eating, filthy cooking utensils, the overwhelming crush of humanity in the streets, and the beggar children pounding on the taxi windows. It’s a lot to take in, but just as India itself assaults your senses, so Baker’s fine cinematography captures the essence of this wonderful, infuriating country and in some exquisitely stunning moments makes palpable the spiritual and almost magical power that the country can exert over visitors.

The story cleverly weaves not only the dynamics of this odd-couple marriage (she is a high-flying workaholic lawyer, he an ex-musician, a bit at odds with life, no longer the breadwinner), but also deeper issues of what it means to be a mother, to be childless, and to take a child from its country of birth. No moral judgments are made – the issues are simply presented as part of the plot.

Fiona and Ben start off very much as outsider Westerners, but as things progress they get gradually drawn into the feel, mood and style of the country – their dress changes, their pace slows and as they move from the sterility of their opulent hotel to visiting a village their sense of connectedness to “Mother India”, the all embracing country of their daughter’s birth, develops. They have a hotel guide assigned to them, Krishna (Samrat Chakrabarti) , a beautifully-drawn character who takes them to the village where Lakshmi was born and who also questions the merit of taking a child away from its birthplace. He offers a window into Indian spiritual beliefs, especially those of taking the holy waters, and I found him a pivotal and beautiful character in this story.

The very talented Mitchell has quite a body of work behind her now as does Edgerton. Here they team extremely well together, capturing the complexities of this odd marriage, with all the pressures they place upon themselves, each other, and their future child.

The film’s ending surprises, but also opts for a very lovely wrap-up which ties many of the themes nicely together, without heading towards predictability or cloyingness. All in all, The Waiting City is a very satisfying movie experience




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