Feted Australian filmmaker Ray Lawrence talks to Paul Dale about movies and moral dilemmas
Ray Lawrence is being a bit testy today. ‘I know some of the blog reviews said Jindabyne is slow and boring. But they’re 18-year-old kids sitting in their underpants in front of the computer and I’m not interested. I have a very specific audience. They read. They can read a 400-page book and it doesn’t faze them.’ His voice is equal parts resignation and fatherly disappointment. You couldn’t say that Lawrence (pictured) is a prolific filmmaker, having made just three films in 20 years, yet he is arguably one of the most respected and psychologically truthful filmmakers currently working in the Australian film industry. The 59-year-old Lawrence also seems to be the only one using his cinema as a kind of Freudian dialectic, ‘I want people who struggle with relationships to see my films. The difference between men and women interests me. And people who stay or leave, what makes them stay and what makes them leave? Hopefully, I’m talking to a thoughtful audience.’
His new film Jindabyne is an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story So Much Water So Close to Home about some fishing buddies whose thoughtless actions cause a ripple of public humiliation and marital discord. Robert Altman already adapted the story back in 1993 for Short Cuts but by moving the story from the US to Australia and making the dead woman of Aboriginal descent, Lawrence and screenwriter Beatrix Christian have opened it to ever more disturbing sociological interpretation. ‘When I read Carver’s story it was that moral dilemma of responsibility - which we seem to be losing now because we don’t want to be responsible for each other - that really struck me. Communities are falling apart and that whole thing about buying a second life on the Internet is just perverse.’
As in his two previous films - Peter Carey adaptation Bliss (1985) and puissant Sydney-set multi character drama/thriller Lantana (2001) - Lawrence extracts great performances from a large ensemble cast that includes Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne.
‘The actors are the conduit to the audience - how the story gets there, and I’m very interested in emotional truth. The actors are my instruments so I look after them; I try not to wear them out. When you see a truthful performance it is just something special. Audiences recognise that truth.’
For a man whose films generally tip the two hour mark it’s surprising to learn that, until recently, Lawrence made his living between features making television commercials: ‘Oh God, I’ve made thousands! Everything from sanitary napkins to milk. But just like cinema, that industry has become less fun, more corporate and less creative. The only thing about making commercials was that I’d do it two or three times a month, where as a film director, I do it once every 18 years or something. But hey, my hero is Ken Loach and what is important to me now is finding a truth, mystery and poetry in the way I make films and tell stories.’
Jindabyne is on selected release from Fri 25 May.