Tim Winton’s The Turning (2013)

“Although I do not hope to turn again. Although I do not hope. Although I do not hope to turn.”

The Turning is arguably the most unique and ambitious Australian film I’ve ever witnessed. Based on acclaimed Australian author Tim Winton’s best-selling anthology of short stories, the film has the demanding task of transforming 17 loosely connected chapters of battered, haunted and tortured Australians into one cohesive cinematic event.  A passion project for respected producer/director Robert Connolly, The Turning succeeds largely as a vehicle to showcase seventeen separate collaborations of sublime Australian filmmaking.

Typically a compiled work of this magnitude has the propensity to fall flat under the weight of its own bold aspirations, but for the most part, The Turning avoids this fate. While the sprawling 3-hour run time asks much of the viewer, each shortly lived chapter is assigned to a single director from various arenas of the Australian Arts scene. Connolly’s choice to divide and designate in this fashion gives the film the much needed diversity and creative energy to maintain interest and momentum throughout.

This grand experiment exhibits several pre-established and noteworthy Australian directors including Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City), Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) and of course, Connolly (The Bank), but it also marks the directorial debuts of in-demand Australian actors Mia Wasikowska (Stoker, Alice in Wonderland) and David Wenham (300, The Proposition). As can be expected, the final results do vary. Dealing primarily with suburban pain, melancholy and angst, some pieces, despite their talented construction, tended to blur together and grew ever so slightly repetitive at times. Others were simply breathtaking and could be analysed in our schools for years to come.

Oddly enough, my favourite chapter came from one of the débutante directors. Brisbane-based Artistic Director of Circa, Yaron Lifschitz’s ‘Immunity’ uttered not a single word, but used stunningly choreographed physical theatre and contemporary circus to tell a simple, but beautiful story about a chance encounter between a boy and a girl on a train.

The rich and culturally diverse ensemble cast is truly outstanding and is headlined by some of our most respected and revered performers including Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto and Hugo Weaving. Amongst all that Australian royalty, the standout performances belong to Byrne and Weaving. Both depict gritty and bleak characters that are shattered and broken by abuse. Both fervent portrayals are absolutely captivating and demand your utmost attention.

Due to the separate handling of each piece, the chapters do feature reoccurring characters that appear spasmodically throughout the film, but they are never played by the same actor. While this bold choice may prove disorientating for some, I found it intriguing and refreshing to see both a Caucasian and an Indigenous performer playing the same character.

The Turning’s ambition must be recognised and applauded. Though theatrically this film will struggle to find its audience, I’m certain these works will garner far greater attention and admiration over the following years, as a watershed moment for collaborative Australian filmmaking. For the time-being, The Turning should also break the underlining cynicism that many feel towards the overall mismanagement of the Australian Film Industry. Despite its missteps, this stunningly original concept provides even further evidence that our industry can deliver bold and passionate artistic works when given its chance.

Hopefully this marks the turning of something far greater for the future of Australian film. Pun intended.

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