Topless Women Talk About Their Lives

(Harry Sinclair, New Zealand, 1997)


I giggled twice during this film. The first titter happened within about the first minute, as a German tourist in New Zealand searches idly for the beach on which The Piano (1993) was filmed.

The second chuckle occurred when the title Topless Women Talk About Their Lives appears on the screen translated into solemn German.


That adds up to around thirty seconds of slight comedy.


The other eighty-eight and a half minutes are dull, witless, shapeless and ugly. Topless Women has been widely compared to the Australian romantic, twentysomething comedy Love and Other Catastrophes (1996), but the comparison does this New Zealand effort no favours.


Harry Sinclair's feature debut, written and shot on the run after the success of his TV series of the same name, tries to be goofy and poignant by turns. It fails on all levels. We follow the messy love lives of a pack of young things, with special attention paid to the pregnant and confused Liz (Danielle Cormack).


I am all for the presentation of unusual human behaviour on screen but, psychologically speaking, most of the action in Topless Women makes no sense at all. A newly married couple decides to separate on their wedding night because of a minor tiff involving a friend. A woman is stabbed in the stomach by a dangerous nut, and then politely pretends nothing has happened. Couples break up and make up without the slightest rhyme or reason.


Alarmingly, budding NZ filmmakers seem even fonder of the British director Mike Leigh (Career Girls, 1996) than Australia’s own hopefuls. This film apes Leigh's sloppy cinematic technique and his casual, groundless misanthropy. It is a painfully de-glamourised milieu full of completely unlikeable people.


Sinclair's use of Leigh's improvisational methods leaves the cast floundering, and results in a void both comically and dramatically.

© Adrian Martin December 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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