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Alexandra’s Project

(Rolf de Heer, Australia/Italy, 2003)


 


2002 was, comparatively, a good year for Australian cinema. There were two outstanding films, Rabbit-Proof Fence – directed by Philip Noyce back in his homeland after 15 years in America – and Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker.

 

Both were part of a brief wave addressing political and social issues that regularly fill the media involving the status of indigenous, Aboriginal citizens. The more controversial of the two, The Tracker is almost a Western, showing the clash of white and black systems of law and morality.

 

De Heer instantly capitalised on this level of acclaim (he works fast) by making an unusual and beguiling thriller with no relation whatsoever to The Tracker: Alexandra’s Project, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. In widescreen and with a disquieting atmosphere, its setting is a sterile, ultra-modern suburban home.

 

In this cautionary tale, the high-security devices keep the world out, but also imprison a family in its own living hell. The gifted actor Helen Buday makes a strong impression as the oppressed (but table-turning) Alexandra.

 

There has always been a touch of the naïve artist to de Heer (as there is also to Paul Cox). His filmic craft improves a great deal in his later films, and he also sometimes manages to hit a nerve in the mass Australian psyche.

 

Some of de Heer’s films are melodramatic, masochistic fantasies of the powerful, white male, in which a racist or misogynist villain (played by Gary Sweet in both The Tracker and here), embodying brutal, conservative, outmoded values, finally suffers righteous revenge – at the hands of (respectively) an Aborigine or a woman.

 

A little weirdly, it’s a formula that works well for de Heer.

MORE de Heer: Dance Me to My Song, Ten Canoes

© Adrian Martin March 2003


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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