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Australia 2005
Directed by
Sarah Watt
100 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Look Both Ways

Synopsis: On a hot Adelaide weekend the lives of several individuals become interlinked. Meryl (Justine Clarke) is an artist who constantly thinks of horrible deaths, Nick (William McInnes), a photojournalist, has just been diagnosed with cancer  and with colleague Andy (Anthony Hayes) is coverig a train wreck that has cost many lives. Andy has his own troubles in the form of his ex-wife and a pregnant girlfriend Anna (Lisa Flanagan). Along with just-widowed Julia (Daniel Farinacci) they are all trying to cope with the arbitrariness of life.

Sarah Watt made her feature debut with this film that like Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) depicts the intersecting lives of a group of people over a short span of time.

Whilst Watt’s take on the idea deftly portrays its typical Antipodean setting - the sweltering suburban weekend, a visit to the local swimming pool the amateur cricket match with the magpies cawing in the background and so on - and  her use of paintings (her own), animated sequences, photo-montages and diagrams to deepen and extend her portrayal of her characters’ lives is novel, clever and effective her film suffers from the overwhelming glumness that is so programmatically consistent that at times it approaches the self-parodic.  And although no doubt it is a strategy which is at least partly determined by budgetary considerations, the fact that all the characters seemingly live a stone’s throw away from each other and their paths are constantly crossing somewhat de-stabilizes the typically Australian realist style (it was shot on Super 16mm) to which the film otherwise adheres.. 

Of course we are all more or less aware of the contingency and fragility of life, but not all of us all of the time. Nor do we all react to it in the same way. That is the essential shortcoming of Watts’ screenplay which needed more diversity and texture in its character’s responses to be credible. Only Anthony Hayes’ hot-headed journo provides some leavening to the stunned glumness which most characters face their lot in life although the  decision to make him a kind of symbolic presence representing the option of voluntary termination as a response to it all does not come off. One might also question the film’s conventionally reassuring and overly neat ending

For all that, Look Both Ways is an ambitious, thoughtful and well-made film and the performances are all first class with Justine Clarke and William McInnes believably everyday in the lead roles. The only real disappointment is Watt's choice of music which seems to be largely American alt-country. 

FYI: In a coincidence which Watt. a film-maker who mined her own life for her art, would, at least on one level appreciate, only months after finishing filming Look Both Ways was diagnosed with breast cancer. She made one more feature film – 2009’s My Year Without Sex, before passing in November 2011 aged 53.




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