Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Kiss

Last night I went to the premiere screening of a new short film by young local filmmakers Sonya Humphrey (producer) and Ashlee Page (writer-director). Adelaide's Mercury Cinema was filled to capacity, no mean feat at 6.30 on a warm Tuesday evening, by a crowd that included some well-known faces.

The film is an adaptation of Peter Goldsworthy's short story of the same name, 'The Kiss', a story I know very well because I chose it to include in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aust Lit and have therefore read it about eleven times, if you count repeated proofreadings. Not to be giving away the whole plot, but it's a chilling tale in which two teenage boys, the worse for drink, decide to go for a swim in an isolated underground tank and realise only after they have jumped in that the water level is too low for them to be able to reach the ladder.

Considering that in Page's screenplay the characters are girls instead of boys, which you'd think was a pretty substantial change and a most disconcerting one at first, the film is actually one of the closest and cleverest adaptations of a piece of fiction that I think I've ever seen. Page gets a couple of extraordinary performances out of her two young actors, and a lot of mileage out of the look of rural Australia at night, simultaneously sinister and glorious.

What I've always admired most about Peter Goldsworthy's work (NB if you're wondering, he may or may not be a distant cousin, so this is nepotism five times removed if it is nepotism at all), in any genre, is his ruthlessness in following the logic of the body to its often bitter end; to me at least, all of his best work is firmly grounded in his experience as a GP over several decades, pitting the detailed abstractions of moral dilemmas against the stark, simple, unrelenting clarity of the body and its processes and frailties. The film is very faithful to this particular take on the mind-body problem. One of the most interesting things about watching it was that although I was all too familiar with the story's events and therefore knew what was coming, I still felt chilled and wired by it -- tense muscles, racing heart -- which makes you wonder about the nature of suspense. Another kind of mind-body problem.

Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat


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