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Somersault
cast: Abbie Cornish, Olivia Pigeot, Damian de Montemas, Lynette Curran, and Sam Worthington

writer and director: Cate Shortland

102 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail
[released 8 August]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Emma French
This film was showered with awards in its native Australia when released last year, and it is certainly an unusual, haunting and original cinematic achievement. It's visually flawless and beautifully acted and written. For a non-Australian audience, the film's wintry landscapes provide a fascinating alternative perspective on a continent most commonly depicted as parched outback or city beach. The film follows a young girl exploring the potency of her sexual powers for the first time, with that odd mix of innocence and almost sinister knowingness that characterises youth. As with The Piano, a film that, incidentally, shares the same producer, Somersault radiates female sensuality and consciousness; it is difficult ever to lose sight of the fact that the film has a female writer-director, Cate Shortland.

The central character is the film's strength, with an extraordinary performance by Abbie Cornish as Heidi, but also its weakness, as she is a character it can be difficult to sympathise or empathise with. The film begins with her being forced to leave her home after seducing her mother's boyfriend. Her subsequent adventures with a range of men are poignant and sometimes shocking. Her main love interest, the attractive and mercurial Joe (played by Sam Worthington), remains enigmatic to both Heidi and viewers even at the end of the film, and lacks real depth. This movie must, however, be praised for having the courage to leave loose ends in its characterisation, and for its withholding of any pat moral judgements or tidy resolutions. Somersault shares the dreamlike, soporific quality of Heavenly Creatures, Picnic At Hanging Rock and The Virgin Suicides.

The DVD extras include a lengthy trailer, which interestingly tries to position the film as a thriller as well as a romance, and a short 1999 film in Japanese, also directed by Cate Shortland, called Flowergirl. It is an eerie and memorable story about a group of Japanese youths from Osaka living temporarily in Australia. The film displays certain qualities shared by Somersault, including a fascination with images of water and weather and a strong sense of the turbulent emotions of adolescence. The disc also features a series of deleted scenes that can be viewed with or without director commentary and an advertisement for the soundtrack, which, like the film, won numerous plaudits.

The longer special features consist of Inside The Snowdome: Making Somersault and Shooting Somersault: on location with cinematographer Robert Humphreys ACS. The former contains valuable interviews with the young and comely director Cate Shortland, but too often simply shows scenes from the film without commentary. In his interview Robert Humphreys is young and laconic, and provides a series of interesting insights on matters ranging from the difficulty of the Flowergirl shoot to Shortland's range of cinematic references. It is particularly interesting to learn that Heidi is normally shot with blue light to emphasise her youthful, fragile character, whilst other characters are shot in warm tones, a device which typifies the film's subtlety and craftsmanship. The interview is rather too long, and much of its content would probably only be of interest for the budding cinematographer, though the concluding list of 'best cinematographer' awards that Robert Humphreys won for his work on Somersault indicates that his rather nerdy passion for his work paid dividends. The disc as a whole reflects the intelligence and passion for filmmaking demonstrated by both Somersault and its crew.
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