Family Viewing


Christina Andreef worked as assistant director on Jane Campion’s first three films, and Soft Fruit, Andreef’s feature-length debut, is a mutant strain of her mentor’s domestic horror-comedies (such are the perils of inbreeding, since Campion also executive-produced). Bursting with grotesque burlesques of household relations that make Kate Winslet’s clan in Holy Smoke look like the Dashwoods and attempting a Campionesque dialectic between bodily functions and family dysfunction, it hurls its humanity at you like rotten tomatoes. To nurse their saintly, dying mother through her last days, four grown siblings descend on their parents’ home: Vera, a shy, bovine nurse (Alicia Talbot); Bo, a boorish ex-con (Russell Dykstra); Nadia, a wry, horny young mother (Sacha Horler, thankfully playing in three dimensions); and Josie, an ostentatious, aggressively stupid American transplant. This last coxcomb is provided by Genevieve Lemon, whose overacting makes this simple suburban caricature into more of a monster than the title role she played in Campion’s Sweetie.

Andreef (aided by DP Laszlo Baranyai) shows more aplomb with place than with people. The family’s house is surrounded by lush greenery—Australia has rarely looked so verdant on film—that provides perhaps too sharp a counterpoint to the claustrophobic melodrama within; when Mum is in the yard in her hammock, you can feel the light and the breeze on your face. And when Vera and Bo sneak their mother out of their cramped abode (made the more insufferable by their abusive father) for a restorative, morphine-aided road trip, the fresh air does the film good too. Then it returns inside for a concluding three-ring carnival of grief, the operatics of which are meant as harsh, shit-happens honesty. Andreef, at the least, is never mean, an accusation that can sometimes be leveled at Campion; however, bathos is its own kind of contempt.

One of the few discernible emotions evinced by Finbar Flynn, as played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Disappearance of Finbar, is contempt—for his family, his best pal Danny, and his desolate concrete slab of a nothing Irish hometown. One day he jumps off a building and doesn’t leave behind a corpse. He remains trapped in an enervating road movie—shelved so long that Rhys Meyers still appears to have baby fat—summed up when Finbar, who turns up in Finland (natch), asks whey-faced Danny, “You couldn’t find anything better to do than to come find me?!”