The Eye Of The Storm

The Eye Of The Storm


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

After a great storm, the air is clear and fresh with flocks of birds coming out to celebrate survival.

Fred Schepisi's visually stunning Eye Of The Storm, based on Nobel prize winner Patrick White's novel, is satiny and complex. Charlotte Rampling's "ferocious assaults" drive the movie. Geoffrey Rush's Basil is the chilling portrait of a man who never faced the truth about himself. And Judy Davis gives Dorothy the vision of reinvention - never has a breakfast with the eggs sunny-side up been more life-affirming.

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Set in 1972, in a rich Sydney neighborhood, Schepisi allows us to revel in the luxurious world of dying matriarch Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling, spanning decades) and observe how masterfully she controls her surroundings.

Daughter Dorothy, the divorced Princesse de Lascabanes, played with fantastic nervousness and beautiful conquering spirit by Judy Davis, returns home to her mother's deathbed. Stendahl's 1839 Napoleonic war novel The Charterhouse Of Parma is in her luggage. The book's family castle on Lake Como as a reminder of the world she left to become a princess in Paris or, possibly, the other way around. There is no place like home for this Dorothy.

In flashback, a younger mother Hunter, also played by Rampling, in the all important white summer dress at the beach after the storm, has a slash on her cheek. It is her belief, we hear in the son's voice over, that if you belong to a certain class, you get to choose when you die. If screeching gulls and an attractive woman with blood on her face make you think of Hitchcock, you might draw the wrong conclusion about what happened here. Domestication and survival don't always go hand in hand.

Various curtains are opened at the start, and closed at the end of The Eye Of The Storm, linking the characters with the fabric of their world, the cinema and each other.

Another illuminating motif are the hugs. Not since Hitchcock's Marnie (1964), has a mother daughter embrace been as savagely telling about a relationship.

"I can't be a threat any more, can I?", asks the bed-ridden matriarch, with poison trickling off every syllable. Oh yes, she can, and is, to everyone around her. Control is this woman's profession, her hobby, her love, and Charlotte Rampling revels in her performance.

Daughter Dorothy is explored through her relationship with clothes, and the always chic Judy Davis, who was seen this summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Fashion Institute exhibit, Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations, as Elsa Schiaparelli, gives insight into the habits and fashion tribulations of her character. Dorothy lays out all the clothes, including stockings and watch on the bed as a test run. The body that will fill it is of secondary importance.

At a party, Cherry Cheeseman (Liz Alexander), the hostess, has a little breakdown. Dorothy cheers her up, while sitting together on the bedroom floor, with anecdotes about her noble French in-laws, who loved to pronounce her name as "Dor-rĂ´-ti" which makes it sound like "roast rump."

The thematic links are remarkable, because they reveal and conceal simultaneously.

Schepisi is precise, showing several close-ups that feature food. Visual dots for us to connect. Basil stains his shirt sleeve at dinner and doesn't notice it. His waistcoat button springs off and he has another chocolate cookie. After a meeting at the lawyers, when alone, he gobbles down fish and chips. If he were a woman, the audience would expect these to be hints at a pregnancy. Especially with Nurse Flora Dora (a perky Alexandra Schepisi), a conquest, throwing away her birth control pills. Who conquers whom is not exactly clear and of less importance than the individual plottings and schemings surrounding their affair.

"People misunderstand the significance of clothing," says Rampling's character when she sees nurse Flora trying on her own white dress from the opening sequence with the birds by the sea. "How can one ever discard a garment that marked such a day?" Clothes as branding is something the nurse tries to force, but Dorothy understands.

When Flora misquotes her boss, as "a dress should mark an occasion," she gets it wrong. So does Basil, when he tries to force a love that isn't there. "I think I could be real with you" is no more than an actor's half-wishful thinking. Rotting food, worms underneath roses, two symbolically charged sapphire rings used as weapons, come with the beautiful houses and the sharp dialogue.

"You still have your freckles? They haven't turned cancerous?" serves as hello to an old acquaintance, followed by the knock-out line, "your husband is so hairless". A black swan pecking at a little black coot, visualises what is left unspoken.

Being useful and being wanted can be hardest to achieve. "Mort au chocolat" is more than a dessert and death by chocolate is not Dorothy's choice.

Reviewed on: 02 Sep 2012
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A dying mother is determined to manipulate her family to the very end.
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Director: Fred Schepisi

Writer: Judy Morris, based on the book by Patrick White

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling, Maria Theodorakis, Jamie Timony, Judy Davis, Bob Marcs, Alexandra Schepisi, John Gaden, Helen Morse, Robyn Nevin, Jane Menelaus, Bille Brown, Simon Stone, Nikki Shiels, Louise Siversen, Colin Friels

Year: 2011

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia


Australia 2012

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