Corroboree

Bottom Line: This self-consciously arty film is ultimately too inaccessible.

Toronto International Film Festival

SYDNEY -- Filmmaker Ben Hackworth has crafted something Australian cinema has not seen for some time -- an uncompromising concept film inhabiting the very fringes of the art house. Singular though it may be, most will find his debut feature, "Corroboree," fairly impenetrable so it seems destined to remain an esoteric festival-circuit challenge for those who like that sort of thing.

A series of performance workshops centering on newcomer Conor O'Hanlon evolved into a collection of stagy scenes with an extremely loose narrative, courtesy of Hackworth and the film's production designer, Peter Savieri. The result is intended as an homage to the late Australian theater director Richard Wherrett.

Early scenes are completely baffling, but the cumulative effect is rather hypnotic. O'Hanlon plays a pretty young actor named Conor who is summoned to a rustic meditation retreat by a director dying of an AIDS-related illness (Ian Scott, only occasionally glimpsed.) Over the course of a weekend, Conor re-enacts scenes from the director's life, opposite five different actresses (some played by women who worked with Wherrett), each portraying a key figure in the director's orbit.

It's all very meta and there is virtually no exposition. When the full-lipped young man awkwardly reading lines to the first of these women -- a maternal figure clad in a scandalously short nightgown -- admits to being "a little confused," we know where he's coming from.

There is much creeping around the halls and stairwells of the pastel-painted compound, a fantastically timeless place that adds greatly to the ambience. Meanwhile, we are treated to non sequiturs such as "Can you see the advantage of blue sand?"

Lengthy takes at fixed angles abound, often with nothing but birdsong breaking the silence. We do learn that the mysterious director was married, that he has a son and that he liked men. The actresses do not want him to die. The re-enacted scenes, committed to film, are intended as a form of catharsis for the director and the women.

The audience, however, seems kept deliberately at a distance, resulting in an emotional coldness that's unaided by the fact that Hackworth's muse, the non-actor O'Hanlon, also seems to have little clue what's going to happen next.

"Corroboree" is an English word for the song and dance ceremonies of Australian Aborigines, and it suits the heavily choreographed nature of this theatrically staged, terribly self-aware film.

CORROBOREE
Shoreline Entertainment
I Won't Grow Up
Credits:
Director: Ben Hackworth
Screenwriters: Ben Hackworth, Peter Savieri
Producer: Matteo Bruno
Executive producer: Eilhys England
Director of photography: Katie Milwright
Production designer: Peter Savieri
Music: Robert Mackenzie
Costume designer: Oriana Merullo
Editor: Cindy Clarkson
Cast:
Conor: Conor O'Hanlon
Dr. Elsja: Rebecca Frith
Verna: Susan Lyons
Lena: Natasha Herbert
Anne: Margaret Mills
Jane: Jane McArthur
The Director: Ian Scott
Little Joe: Jethro Cave
Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating
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