Jindabyne is the latest entry from Australian director Ray Lawrence., whose last film, Lantana, was in my top ten films of 2002. Based on the short story “So Much Water So Close to Home” by Raymond Carver, Jindabyne explores the relationship between the sexes and the relationship between the races (white and Aboriginal) in the small town of Jindabyne in New South Wales, Australia in the aftermath of an unusual weekend fishing trip. The four men involved make a shocking find and are faced with a sudden moral dilemma, the kind of dilemma that gains much more weight and tension in retrospect, leading to a variety of relationship crises.
This is a slow-moving and intense film, more a collection of scenes than a straightforward narrative, in which the issues are explored in excruciating but often unsatisfying detail. I don’t mind slow films but the pace here was just a little too slow and I kept waiting in vain for scenes and plot themes to be developed more fully, though I appreciated the aura of mystery with which the film was imbued.
What really saves the film, though, is the incredible performances of Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney in the lead roles. As a result of their acting and the great cinematography, I may have given the film 3.5 stars (out of four) if it were not for one factor, namely that I had seen the story on film before, in Robert Altman’s brilliant Short Cuts. I found this very distracting as my mind couldn’t help comparing the two films. And even though in Short Cuts this story is one among many as opposed to the central plot, I think Short Cuts dealt with the moral dilemma in a more satisfying way (though I do think Jindabyne has a very satisfying ending, which is a very important criterion for me, and it was interesting to see the cultural clash involved when the story was set it in an Australian context). ***