Tim Winton’s The Turning

Sep 26, 2013

This film adaptation of Tim Winton’s short story cycle The Turning is being promoted as a “unique cinema event”, but even this level of praise fails to do it justice.

The film is a three-hour showcase of exemplary Australian writing, acting and direction in which each of the book’s 17 stories is interpreted by an independent team of filmmakers and artists.

This mammoth project was set in train and overseen by producer-director Robert Connolly, who had a vision of creating a film that felt like an art gallery exhibition.  With this in mind, he set about securing the collaboration of a slew of Australia’s most celebrated directors, writers, actors, photographers, choreographers and visual artists.

The directors involved include Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah), Tony Ayres (The Slap), Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City) and Justin Kurzel (Snowtown), in addition to high-profile actors David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska making extraordinary directorial debuts.

The films are also generously studded with some of our best-known actors.  Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto and Richard Roxburgh are the first to spring to mind, but it is Rose Byrne who turns in the performance of the film with her extraordinary portrayal of Rae, an abused wife and mother living in a trailer park.

Tim Winton’s The Turning is a beautiful and thoroughly Australian film that is every bit as addictive as the book. Winton’s characteristic depiction of life in the fictional West Australian coastal town of Angelus is brought to life in these short pieces, which follow the experiences of a cross-section of its townsfolk.  These films build on each other, gathering momentum and suspense as they explore dark themes such as domestic violence, alcoholism, homicide and police corruption.

Ultimately, the film manages to create a perfect balance between the individual stories, which stand alone as brilliant short films, and the creation of a cohesive and satisfying whole. This is not to say that the connections between all the pieces are necessarily easy to follow.  Despite having read the book, I needed to read the booklet provided at the screening once I was home to fully appreciate all the linkages.

Many characters reappear in multiple stories at different stages of their lives, with the different creative teams examining the characters from different perspectives. The fact that the same character is played by different actors in numerous pieces can mean some connections between the stories are not immediately evident.  It is an indication of the impressive nature of the storytelling and filmmaking that this does not make the film any less enjoyable. Each short piece more than adequately stands on its own feet.

Tim Winton’s The Turning is unquestionably a landmark in Australian filmmaking.  While it demands substantial concentration from the audience, this elegant and suspenseful epic more than rewards the effort.

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The opening night screening of Tim Winton’s The Turning at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas in Adelaide tonight (September 26) will feature an introduction by the creators of the On Her Knees chapter, Adelaide-based director Ashlee Page and actor Harrison Gilbertson.

More InDaily film reviews:

The Smurfs II
Blue Jasmine
The Rocket
White House Down
Red 2
Kick Ass 2

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