Sunday, 25 July 2010

Lantana, Ray Lawrence, Australia/ Germany 2001

Lantana denotes a noxious weed native to tropical areas in the Americas and Australia. As such, it serves as an apt metaphor for the dysfunctional relationships and the distrust, suspicion and lies that come with it, which, in a nutshell, is what Lantana, the film, is all about. Seen differently, Lantana is about trust - or the absence of it - and its requirement as the basis of all relationships. This makes Barbara Hershey, who plays the psychologist Dr. Valerie Somers, Lantana's central figure, even though hers is by no means the leading role. But it is Valerie, who in a lecture she is giving emphasises the importance of trust and its lack of it in many relationships. And indeed, it is trust that is missing in all but one of the relationships we see in Lantana. Yet, it appears that more than anything else, Valerie bemoans her very own inability to trust. And in the end, it is not a serial killer or a car accident that brings her down, but this, her inability to trust which results in fear - as it often does - eventually leading to her downfall.

Based on a play by Andrew Bovell, Lantana is a subtle, densely woven pyschological drama set in an unnamed Australian town. The film dissects several - and as the viewer is to find out - intertwined individual relationships by first pointing to the problems in them before highlighting their intricacies and underscoring what holds them together. Naturally, Lantana is rampant with dishonesty and deception, however, one of the most extraordinary things about Lantana is that Lawrence never passes judgement on any of the characters. Far from polarising, Lantana moves entirely in an area of various shades of grey, making clear that in human relationships few things are ever just black or white while mostly, they're a complex maze. While this may be a truism, in most films the two-timer is usually considered the guilty party while the woman who is the object of a married man's attraction is generally portrayed as a marriage wrecker, or worse, a desperate lunatic (Think 'Fatal Attraction'!). Hence, few films, if any, have understood better to show the complexities of the institution of marriage, demonstrating what makes them tick but also subtly drawing our attention to why two people grew apart - even though they may still love each other.

I first saw Lantana on its European release in 2002. Having watched it a second time just a few days ago, I still found it to be as engrossing and absorbing as I did then, and to once more evoke 'Woolf' and 'Scenes', Lantana seems equally timeless as Nichols' and Bergman's film - like those two, it's a modern classic.

Lantana is out on DVD.