I’m a Tim Winton fan from way back. Cloudstreet is my all time favourite novel and The Turning, my favourite short story collection. So when I saw it was going to be released as a movie I jumped online and ordered tickets for the preview for my daughter (also a fan) and myself. Leading up to the screening I read up on how the film was made – 17 directors were given total freedom to film their selected story as they saw fit – and wondered how it was going to work. When the evening of the preview arrived we headed off to The Palace cinema in Paddington, collected our complimentary champagnes and gorgeous glossy programs and waited in anticipation for the film to begin.
And we weren’t disappointed.
What followed was three hours of beautiful cinematography, inspired directing and acting, in adaptations that captured the spirit of Winton’s writing.
It’s been a while since I’ve read the book which is a collection of loosely related stories set in and around Winton’s fictional town of Angelus. I remembered how powerful the stories were but had forgotten how disturbing some of them were too. Both Winton and the directors of these short films captured the often cruel and sometimes outright abusive behaviours of human beings toward each other. The film named after the book, The Turning, starring Rose Byrne, I found particularly upsetting and had to look away in places. But that honesty, a feature in both the writing and on the screen also made this one of the most memorable of the collection. My personal favourite from the book has always been Aquifer, the story of a high school music teacher facing a secret from his past. Images from that story have stayed with me and were faithfully portrayed in the film. Another favourite was Sand, beautifully directed by Stephen Page, former artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Company, which was almost completely silent, using images to tell the story, just as Winton himself does. My pick of the bunch would have to be Commission, starring Hugo Weaving and directed by David Wenham. Weaving’s portrayal of the emotionally tortured Bob Lang meeting his adult son Vic for the first time in fifteen years, was truly mesmerising. And of course the casting of Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh and Robyn Nevin in Reunion was absolute genius and a joy to watch.
There were a few films that didn’t quite grab me – I didn’t feel that the documentary style of Boner Mcpharlin’s Moll focused enough on the narrator of the original story but it was certainly a unique way of telling the story. And I’m not completely convinced that having different actors play the parts of recurring characters, especially Vic who appears in so many of the stories, was the bast way to go. While it did allow each director to portray the characters in the way they chose, for me it made the collection a little more fragmented than it was meant to be.
Overall I think this film is a wonderful cinematic achievement. It was great to share the experience with my 17 year old daughter and to be able to discuss the various films with her as we read the program afterwards. The emphasis on imagery and sounds really paid homage to Winton’s writing and made the three hours fly by. It was a treat to have the producer Robert Connolly, the director of Reunion, Simon Stone and Susie Porter, star of On Her Knees, speak to the audience when the film finished.
For fans of Tim Winton and this book in particular, and anyone who loves beautifully made Australian films this one is a must see.