Jindabyne

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By: Dan Levens

Jindabyne is a small snowfields town in New South Wales. In the 60’s the entire town was relocated and flooded as part of the Snowy River hydroelectric scheme, so under all that water lays a ghost town of sorts. It was abandoned and the locals stoically moved a few miles up the road, they resettled without too much fuss, restarting their close-knit community. Everyone went about their business of farming and catering to winter tourists and folk who liked to go fishing for some of the best trout in the country.

For those that have seen the Robert Altman film ‘Short Cuts,’ a film based loosely around nine interwoven short stories by the great Raymond Carver, the Ray Lawrence movie ‘Jindabyne’ may ring a bell. If you recall either the Carver story ‘So much water so close to home’ or Altman’s flick you should know the tale of a group of men who went on a fishing trip, found the body of a young woman but decided to continue fishing, only to report it later.

In 2006, Ray Lawrence put together a cast of great Australian and international actors to direct ‘Jindabyne,’ a film lifted from the Beatrix Christian screenplay. In this piece Lawrence takes this short story as his own and expands upon the many themes explored in it, adding an Australian touch.

As we meet the characters life seems routine and peaceful, until things take a drastic turn when a “boys only” trout fishing trip takes a turn for the worse. Whilst looking for a suitable fishing hole a young Aboriginal girl is found floating in the water. Shocked at their find the men debate what to do, but finding they are out of phone range they make the fatal decision of tethering the girl with fishing line to a tree, to keep her body from floating away, and finishing their fishing weekend before notifying the police.

When the community finds out what the men have done things take a turn for the worse and they find themselves maligned by their friends and neighbors. As the fact that the girl is a local Aboriginal becomes apparent, accusations of racism fly from the local Aboriginal community. The people of Jindabyne ignore the true killer of the girl instead persecuting those on the fishing trip.

At the centre of this drama is Claire; an American woman, played by Laura Linney, who has given up on her career to start a family with an Irish racing car champion, now mechanic Stewart Kane, played by Gabriel Byrne. Claire battles desperately to understand how her husband could have left the body of a murdered girl floating in the river while he enjoyed his fishing trip. She is stricken to the core by Stewart’s seemingly callous decision and everything she thought she knew about her husband and marriage is brought into question.

Therein lies one of the central themes at the heart of Jindabyne: the differences between men and women, brought into sharp relief by the men’s handling of the situation. On the surface it may seem calm, but underneath ghosts and demons lurk. To the men; the dead girl was beyond help, so it didn’t make any difference whether the find was reported two days later. To the women; on the other hand, the men’s choice to fish while a dead girl lays floating in the water is beyond their grasp. Claire alone understands the need to find a way to make recompense for her husband’s actions; in trying to find a way to bring forgiveness to her husband she also seeks absolution and release for herself, for the post natal breakdown that led her to abandon her son and husband a few years previously.

The film paints with fine brush strokes human behaviour in times of conflict and all involved in portraying this do it impeccably. Byrne and Linney are magnificent as the complex and slightly broken Kanes. As with the Carver story, Jindabyne shows no clear demarcation between right and wrong. That was one of the brilliant things Carver could do; take an everyday situation (or in this case a tragedy) and bring it to life without casting any judgements himself.

Water and the notion that much is concealed in what lies beneath the surface plays a prominent metaphorical part in the film. The nature of the relationship between Claire and Stewart is subtly explored in the film. Claire’s own sanity is questioned as she battles demon’s trying to ascertain the truth. However, we are made constantly aware that they are only being shown a small part of a larger picture, with women, men and different communities showing how they react to an awful tragedy.

Jindabyne is seamlessly directed and beautifully acted by the entire cast, with Linney and Byrne being the real standouts. Their shared dance as husband and wife in this terribly impaired marriage is so laden with raw emotion that their hurt, sorrow and anger radiate from the screen. Lawrence captures in Jindabyne both the intimacy of the lives of married people and the broader canvas of a community. The brittle nature of our perceptions of our lovers, friends and neighbors is bared and we cannot but help walk away from this fine work without looking at what lies beneath our own surfaces.

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