Bitter & Twisted



Opened: Australia, September 25.

SYDNEY -- Young writer-director Christopher Weekes makes a mature debut with “Bitter & Twisted,” a pensive and understated little treasure about a bereaved suburban Sydney family stuck in a holding pattern of grief. There’s an ever-present threat that this low-budget drama will become trapped in the ennui of its characters and wind up wallowing in misery. But skilful, instinctive direction by the 28-year-old Weekes (who also co-stars) and uniformly terrific performances from an ensemble cast pull it back from the brink.

“Bitter & Twisted” is rolling out slowly across Australian screens after receiving a sweet reception at international film festivals including Tribeca, Sarajevo and Montreal. Word-of-mouth is already strong and it’s a solid contender for local awards.

The carefully constructed narrative pursues numerous threads following the sudden (and unexplained) death of twentysomething Liam. Three years after the event, his family and former girlfriend are still reeling from the loss, their inability to communicate pulling the emotional shutters down further.

As Liam’s father and mother, Steve Rodgers and Noni Hazlehurst give towering performances that anchor the film. Rodgers’ obese car salesman, Jordan, is failing at his job, over-eating to allay his misery and paying more attention to his son’s grave than to his menopausal and increasingly lonely wife, Penelope (Hazlehurst). Starved for affection, she visits a singles bar and picks up a young man with a passing resemblance to her dead son.

The surviving son, Ben (Weekes), has developed a crush on his brother’s ex-girlfriend, Indigo (Leeanna Walsman), who’s distracting herself by having a destructive affair with a married man.

They’re all tormented souls, but honestly portrayed, and the quiet desperation with which they go about their daily routines is recognizably human. Long, sad silences, scant dialogue and a languid pace open up what could become stifling soap opera and make the downbeat compelling.

With cinematographer Sam Collins and editor Simon Wright, Weekes has merged beautifully framed images to a trancelike rhythm, wisely leaving much of the emotional landscape open to interpretation.

Special mention to Matthew Newton, who almost steals the show with his sidebar character, Ben’s gay friend who’s hell-bent on seducing him.

Production companies: Casp Productions
Cast: Noni Hazlehurst, Steve Rodgers, Leeana Walsman, Christopher Weekes, Gary Sweet, Matthew Newton.
Writer-director: Christopher Weekes.
Executive producer: Michael Favelle.
Producer: Bridget Callow.
Director of photography: Sam Collins.
Production designer: Phil Shearer.
Music: Brian Cachia.
Costume designer: Loretta Egan.
Editor: Simon Wright.
Sales agent: Odin’s Eye Entertainment
No rating, 86 minutes.

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