Somersault and Look Both Ways are debut feature films for their directors - Cate Shortland (short film maker) and Sara Watt (animator) respectively. Both set in extreme weather conditions - Somersault in the bleak cold change of season near a ski resort; No Way Out set over a scorching hot weekend in Adelaide. Two Australian movies that are similar in many ways but each leaving me feeling completely different afterwards.
Somersault follows 16 year old Heidi as she makes that subtle shift between child and adult. Her life lacks the intimacy she craves as she confuses sex with love with the exquisite bad judgement of youth. She leaves her home after one such incident, and takes the bus to a ski resort arriving at the wrong end of the ski season believing a past encounters promise of contact if she's ever in the area. Of course, he doesn't remember her let alone want to hear from her, so she looks for a place to sleep by letting a tourist take her back to his accommodation. This is her method of operation - sexual encounters for warmth and attention and shelter. She is intensely alone. It's all she seems to know, and we know how self destructive that road will be if she continues down it.
Then she meets Joe, the son of a local farmer. He seems to be as closed off and confused as Heidi appears naive and fragile. She is childlike, and he is confused. She finds a job, makes friends, meets people - tentative, fragile, but a semblance of a "normal" life seems to fill the space she occupies, though her transluscent innocence never leaves her.
"I'm fucking the girl from the servo."
"she's not like a close friend or anything, we're sleeping together."
"you know when you were a kid, did your mum ever used to spray perfume in the air then sort of walk through it? ... yeh, well she's like that. you see, when you leave, you can still feel her on your skin."
Things catch up with Heidi though, her self destructive tendencies resurface when she realises Joe is uncomfortable with her meeting his friends and begins to pull away from her again. This is the catalyst for her to make that subtle move to stop playing at grownups. She reaches out, finally, and finds a little help goes a long way. She left me feeling like it's not going to be easy but I could see the woman in the girl and am slightly hopeful.
I spent the whole movie worried about Heidi. She was bloody lucky not to fall into any real danger, or have any of those situations turn really bad. In fact, a lot of women could probably say that about the same time in our lives. There's a very fine line between being safe and not safe in sexually charged situations. The woman next to me in the theatre expected more trouble for Heidi in her situations, if the frights and gasps she annoyed me with were anything to go by.
Somersault left me feeling low. Although it had a dreamlike quality, like old photographs or memories - it's reality hit home. Sadness and worry are the feelings I've been left with.
Look Both Ways is one of the best films I've ever seen. It is familiar, and beautiful - I loved it right from the beginning with the flashes of illustrative imaginings and I want to go see it again right now. Time spent in this movie is joyful. Insanely ordinary and familiar. We meet, and spend a weekend with Nick, and those whose lives intersect his. Lives change this hot weekend.
"What are you talking about death for? it's not like the good old days when you just ignored the whole concept of it."
The characters were all so familiar. Slivers of people I recognised and situations I felt familiarity with. I noticed the way Nick was uncomfortable and didn't know where to place himself that whole weekend after being told he had cancer on Friday, when his work previous to his diagnosis showed him to be a self-assured and confident photo journalist. The way Nick's news changes his Editors outlook on life and we see that shift of priority in the love on his face as he watches his wife and daughter blow out birthday candles. Just a couple of the many fantastic performances from the cast in this movie.
The word "familiar" echoes again and again. Even in the furnishings - stains on the wall paper, black and white photos from the 50s on the walls, oak dressing tables, low quality 40s style sofas worn on the arm rests, old crownlynn teacups - just like every home somewhere. It doesn't feel staged or prepared - Meryl's room, for instance, looked like she'd lived in it for years - layers of images pinned to the walls, traces of her everywhere she even had colour on the telephone from picking it up with wet paint on her hands from a hundred previous phone calls.
The soft, casual - not hilarious, this is no Murial's Wedding or The Castle - funny parts of ordinary people living ordinary lives and having extraordinary everyday things happen to them. Meryl's friend, upon seeing Nick's photo of the train victim's wife on the front page of the paper noting first, how sad that was then "She's got really nice hair." so typical of friend conversations.
"How was home? Did you meet any nice men?"
"It was my dad's funeral."
It's a movie about beginnings. endings. meetings, finishings, picking ups, dumpings, losings, gainings - all the things that happen to us all the time. Everything never changes. This is life.
"You're giving me the flick, aren't you?... I met you on friday, we slept together on Saturday, you took me to meet your mother on Sunday and then you can't start anything. That's the tightest little relationship I've ever had."
I wanted to scoop the movie up carefully in my own two hands and keep it for myself.
There're things that could be written about the slice of generations in Look Both Ways and the train metaphor and the convergence of people and the continuence of spirit and of life and of community and of connectivity but the movie did it all so brilliantly that I say, go see for yourself.
I came away from this movie full of joy, and hope, and glee and warmth.