REVIEW: The Turning (2013)

CommissionTim Winton is the latest Australian vehicle to be mined for multi-platform purposes. Recently we’ve had Patrick White brought to the big screen with The Eye of the Storm and around the same time, Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap was broadcast as a mini-series. Winton’s material isn’t exactly virgin territory—Cloudstreet was adapted into a mini-series for cable in 2011. The winner of roughly a billion awards and Cloudstreet itself topping the 10 Aussie Books You Must Read Before You Die list, it made sense to dig further into the wealth of published material on offer.

This makes the choice of The Turning, a collection of short stories adapted for a feature-length film—as opposed to the obvious choice of a mini-series—so bespoke and so enticing.

Curated by producer Robert Connolly, the man responsible for the upcoming These Final Hours and two episodes of The Slap, it is the most unique slab of local content in decades. And ‘slab’ may prove to be appropriate: with sixteen shorts plus one introductory poem, The Turning clocks in at an ambitious 180 minutes. (Never fear, there will be a ten-minute interval at a half time during the screening for those with weak bladders.) Considering this the time races by rather impressively.

The highlights will obviously differ person to person. Opening with ‘Ash Wednesday’, based on the T.S Eliot poem that introduces the book, it is an animated voiceover sequence that sets the tone for the remainder of the film: this is our land, these are our people. The mood for each film differs greatly but there’s an underlying current of something far deeper than what is usually on offer.

Rose Byrne is one of the definite standouts. As Rae in the title piece she is a product of her environment, living in the squalors of a trailer park with her abusive husband. She befriends new resident Sherry (Miranda Otto) who, over a period of time, acquaints Rae with Christianity, or more specifically Jesus in a snow globe. In an age where atheism is the new religion of choice and Christianity the punch line to many a joke it is a fantastic take on welcoming spirituality into your life, and for the reasons this could necessitate.

Mia Wasikowska, along with a few others, is making her directorial debut (‘Long, Clear View’), the preface to a wealth of experience and directorial knowledge on offer. Justin Kurzel returns from Snowtown with ‘Boner McPharlin’s Moll’, a series of Chinese whispers discussing the titular character; David Wenham oversees a son asking questions of his long-abandoned father in ‘Commission’; Connolly himself even gets a turn with the story of a school teacher revisiting an unfortunate memory, forcing him to question his choice of actions in ‘Aquifer’. In between all of this there’s only a couple of misfires but these are easily forgivable considering the otherwise consistent excellent standard throughout.

The promotional material doesn’t lie: this really is a special event. Each ticket purchased will be rewarded with a 40-page glossy book that details each short for you to recollect for years after.

The rare dull moments are superseded by some of the best cinematography from any film this year. Local audiences have been shouting with dry throats for a film that doesn’t portray us inside a medical facility or a police station. This may well be the answer for a lot of you. The entire country is represented in some manner for the first time here through a means that almost turns it into an artwork. Take advantage of this special offer in a cinema while you can—chances are we won’t see something on such a grand scale for a long time again.

Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire