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aka - Adore
Australia 2013
Directed by
Anne Fontaine
111 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Adoration

Synopsis: Liz (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have been close friends since childhood. Now they have grown up living near each other in an idyllic Australian coastal town and each have  a young son, also firm friends,  Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) have grown into handsome young men. Liz’s husband dies in a car accident and Roz’s husband, Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) leaves for prestigious a job in distant Sydney, but Roz won’t go with him. Left together the foursome go where angels would fear to tread.

I have no idea how this Australian-French co-production came about .Watts is credited as an executive producer so presumably she had a hand in putting the package together and all praise to her is so but I suspect that the number of  incongruent elements have conquered the best of intentions. Adapted from a Doris Lessing novella "The Grandmothers" by English playwright and scriptwriter Christopher Hampton (probably best known for Dangerous Liaisons) and Fontaine, who takes the sole screenwriting credit, directed by a Frenchwoman  with a  penchant for Voguish sexual provocation (as demonstrated by Nathalie), lensed by French cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne who lensed Fontaine’s decorative 2008 film Coco Before Chanel, set in down-to-earth Australia with one of the leads an American, what were the chances of this coming off? 

As writer-director Fontaine must take most of the blame for this. The material is, needless to say, provocative but Fontaine concentrates everything on the story and very little on the vexed dynamics which underpin it.  The result is a fundamental lack of conviction in the relationships depicted. The dialogue is stilted and narrative proceeds in a piecemeal fashion that inhibits any real engagement between the characters with too many walk on/walk off parts (Gary Sweet’s inept suitor stand out in this respect and his entire appearance could have been left on the cutting room floor). 

If we can see the unquestionable appeal of Roz to Ian, there is much less credibility to that of Tom for Liz, which on his part seems solely driven by a spirit of revenge. Fontaine spends much time setting up the foursome with languid summer repasts (it is permanently summer in Paradise) washed down with chilled Chardonnay both sexes attired in carefreely revealing beach wear. How the women get from this to playing the two-backed beast with each other’s children is glibly handled, much as is, in the opposite direction, the removal of Roz’s husband with a “Two Years later” cut (and whilst we’re on the subject Ben Mendelsohn is great with the larrikin/lout character that has been his stock-in-trade for many years but longevity alone does not qualify him to play white collar professionals. His Sydney U drama lecture married to a super-chic art gallery owner doesn’t cut the mustard. And whilst we’re on this subject why does some sleepy Australian town have a super-chic art gallery? In Paris yes, but Ms Fontaine this is Australia for god’s sake, an up-market gift shop would have been more fitting.

Fontaine is at her best when she is focussing on the relationship between the two women, her framing at times recalling Bergman and this is both where the main interest and, by the same token, the main frustration lies.  Watts, as we well know, is one of the finest actors of her generation and she is especially good with emotionally demanding roles.  One can understand her attraction to this story but  the awkward dialogue and Fontaine’s piecemeal approach overwhelms even Watts’ abilities to take us on a journey (in one of the clumsiest scenes the two women discuss the happiness which their dalliances have brought them but neither actress looks remotely happy) . In this respect perhaps Wright's Australian accent which comes and goes like a new bride’s nightie was the occasion for multiple takes, ennervating the energy of the drama. Samuel and Frecheville are both solid opposite their much more experienced partners but one can’t help but feel that Fontaine missed a major opportunity to focus on the carnality of the relationships (there is a lot of lip-smacking and heavy breathing but of eroticism, none. Heck, a steamy Australian summer will do that to you eery time.

This type of material was much more convincingly handled in Laurence Cantet’s 2005 film Heading South but even if Adoration fails to bring it home as effectively as that film there is still much here to reflect upon and given our local perspective it is one of those films that you can enjoy embellishing in your own imagination.

 

 

 

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