Writer/Director Matthew Saville’s cautionary tale of the variously “afflicted” in our society is a wondrously crafted film that plays on the surface like a thriller but drives its subtext home with non-patronizing understanding and truth that seldom finds its way to the big screen.
State policeman Graham McGahan (an exceptionally fine performance by Brendan Cowell—notable for its nuance of emotion, covering the entire decibel spectrum from unbridled rage to sotto voce confession) has hearing, balance and blackouts problems. He fears the worst (inoperable tumor) but until the final medical tests are complete must endure the scorn of his supervisor. Still, his present certificate-proven condition is such that instead of active duty, he’s assigned to a “caravan.” (This Australian production is filled with the lilt of “Down-under” tone and vocabulary.) The police trailer is parked in a rundown strip mall—the last known sighting of a murdered young legal-aid secretary whose death likely came at the same hand as seven others that were brutally shot in the opening-sequence subway massacre.
Lavinia Smart (stoically rendered by Maia Thomas), the sole survivor of the underground carnage nearly died in the slow-moving, post-incident interrogation: her life-dependent diabetes injection kit was being held in evidence. Only quick action by Detective Melanie Ryan (Fiona MacLeod), the “good cop” who manages to wear her harelip without a hint of self-consciousness, saves the hysterical survivor from death-by-institutional-inertia (eerily resonating with the demise of Polish visitor Robert Dziekanski after being tasered by the RCMP last October at Vancouver Airport). But her troubles aren’t over. Soon she’s the target of both the killer (who spared her once but vows to turn the dark-complexioned newcomer into “Dead meat”) and a mistakenly chosen suspect from a line-up. (Although never charged, he opts to exact some revenge nonetheless, only to come face to face with his own foolish assumptions when all of the circumstances are known.)
Rounding out the “special’ people is “Lucky” (a local title for the euphemism “slow”) Phil. Simon Laherty brings a quiet honesty to the mentally challenged boy whose “difference” wins him a constant stream of biscuits from the cops and a savage beating from the local hellions whose courage is only topped by their ignorance and prejudice.
McGahan’s condition—tinnitus: sensation of noise (as a ringing or roaring) that is caused by a bodily disorder (as a disturbance of the auditory nerve or wax in the ear) and typically is of the subjective form which can only be heard by the one affected—is “shared” with the audience using composer Bryony Marks’ excursions to the upper reaches with the Victoria Philharmonic Orchestra’s violin section (where the pitch vagaries only add to the effect), stratospheric white “noise” and the incomprehensible speech (at least from his point of view) of his fellow officer and girlfriend, Constable Caitlin Robinson (Katie Wall).
As Saville lets his narrative unfold, the police-side of the story slips into the back seat, allowing McGahan to share his views of life and death with the growing line of visitors (including Luke Eliot, the boyfriend of one of the deceased and a neighbourhood racist bigot, Henry Nixon).
Magically, all of the threads weave themselves into a Christmas Eve tableau, where some justice is served (to the not coincidental accompaniment of “Angels We have Heard on High”) before a gleaming white light from the heavens metaphorically illuminates much more than the spectacle of the damned below.
The silent credits reinforce the thought-provoking whole with chilling effect. JWR
Walking through the fields of despair
2004, 14 minutes
(Featured short film with Noise on Film Movement’s DVD of the Month Club for new, award-winning independent and foreign films.)
The death of a son—drunk and cavorting on a motorcycle in Bangkok—comes as a sorry event in the tiny village of his parents and children. Grandfather Koon is the model of calm stoicism. He gets the news on the telephone while the rest of the male adults are gathered around a small black-and-white television enjoying a kick boxing match. Reached in the rice fields, Koon shares the news with his never-to-retire wife. She must go and claim the body; he will hunt for food to ensure a respectable turnout at the funeral. The big city has claimed yet another dissatisfied young man, even as his young son looks up to grandpa for wisdom and advice.
Shot du jour was the close-up of a well-fed spider tending its web, awaiting the next hapless victim who would also end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time and paying the price. JWR