The Nun and the Bandit

(Paul Cox, Australia, 1992)

Paul Cox

"In Australia, The Nun and the Bandit won't be appreciated on any level". So speaks the ever-modest writer-director Paul Cox about a film which – as if to bear out his gloomy prediction – did not score much of a cinema platform before heading straight for video.

Although Cox likes to make a fine racket about being a neglected artist, his career has in fact received an astonishing amount of industry and critical support. David Stratton has even called him the "voice of conscience in Australian cinema".

Whether Cox is the voice of art is another matter entirely. He has presented this story of an inept bandit (Chris Haywood) kidnapping a nun (Gosia Dobrowolska) and a young girl (Charlotte Hughes Haywood) as a subtle, paradoxical exploration of human behaviour.

A wild man of nature who is alienated from his environment collides with a quiet woman of God who is alienated from her true spirituality. Their relationship offers a poignant glimpse of mutual growth and salvation.

This interpretation would be terrific if any of it was actually evident on the screen. It is hard to disagree with Scott Murray when he describes Cox's recent work as "bland, even clumsy".

The Nun and the Bandit is inert, repetitious, barely coherent on any narrative or poetic level. And only God could know what Cox means when he declares the film to be "very neatly crafted".

When all else fails, Cox brings out his usual bag of maddening tricks – the dismal attempts at ironic humour, the slow-motion flashes of Super-8 footage (here overlaid with didgeridoo music), and the familiar gesticulations of his repertory players.

Although Dobrowolska brings some dignity to her impossible role, Haywood is allowed to play the part of the crazed Aussie loser with no restraint whatsoever – bugging his eyes and flicking his tongue out like a lizard. It is not a good look.

MORE Cox: Cactus, The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky, Human Touch, Lust and Revenge, Vincent

© Adrian Martin October 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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