The Eye of the Storm

The Eye of the Storm

(MA) Paramount DVD/BD

This Australian film, based on Patrick White’s novel, is a study of fraught family relationships, memory and the attempt to salvage meaning from a flawed and complex life.

Set in 1970s Sydney, the film follows the last days of wealthy, manipulative matriarch Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling).

Her expatriate children — Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush), a past-his-prime actor, and the “Princess” Dorothy (Judy Davis), an impoverished divorcee of minor French royalty — return home to their dying mother, eyes fixed firmly on their inheritance.

The drama of Elizabeth’s life and death also extends outward to involve her employees, including her nurses, housekeeper and solicitor.

Stylistically, the film combines psychodrama with moments of black humour and occasionally borders on the gothic and melodramatic. It drips with theatrical allusions — from open and closing curtains to themes of dress-ups — evoking a sense of posturing characters trapped within their roles in some remorseless drama.

The film is directed by Fred Schepisi and features strong acting from an imperious Rampling and a posing, vulnerable Rush.

Most powerful, however, is Davis’ performance. The moments when Dorothy’s facade cracks to reveal the anguish beneath are perhaps the closest we come to emotional engagement with any of the characters.

The film’s weaknesses include use of a jarringly anachronistic score, and occasional moments of clichéd symbolism, such as shots of wormy fruit. The montage used in the cyclone scene also lacked the climactic power required.

Nevertheless, this is a thought-provoking, even teasing, film.

The meaning of the defining moment of Elizabeth’s life — surviving the cyclone — remains uncertain. And Dorothy’s agonised question — What do we have, if not each other? — echoes unanswered.

Katrina Samaras

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