The Soundtrack
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Screen Scores:
Studies in Contemporary Australian Film Music

. "Look Both Ways" (aka, "Life Story")

One gets the impression from this study of untimely death that Australian writer-director Sarah Watt may have written it in the wake of a fatal accident experience and/or an experience with a cancer victim. Her film encompasses these themes on a personal level amongst unpretentious people, and, despite its determinedly ploding way through a series of subplots, it collects a sense of communal value from the individual effects of one tragedy.

A man is run over by a train, and many people are affected by it in both close and distant ways. The "Crash"-like construction of individual, intersecting stories compose a cross section of a working class society. Set in Adelaide, So. Australia, the relationships are not all easy to understand or connect with, what with the dullness of the characters, the relevance to the poor dead man, and the Aussie accent's challenge to the American ear.

The dominant story line is that of Meryl (Justine Clark), a lonely gal who does watercolors, and her budding relationship with Nick (William McInnes), a newspaper photographer who has just learned he has testicular cancer. Meryl, primarily, is the one who goes around imagining the worst calamities in the everyday minutiae of life. She walks along the columns of an elevated train track on her way home and, as the train passes on the tracks above, we flash to a watercolor animation of her imagining the train derailing and landing on top of her. Look both ways, indeed. It wouldn't have done her much good in her imagined squashing, but there's some mirth and sympathy for someone who lives under such a cloud of dire visions.

Nick, with what he's facing in his next medical report, has a similarly dark view of his life and his options, perhaps a bit more understandably. The evolution of a romance between these two tragic figures is the focal point of the film, occasionally rising to humor and irony amidst the surrounding bleakness. The funny line of the film occurs when Nick tells Meryl that he has to cut it off. "What!" she says. "I meet you on Friday, we sleep together on Saturday, you take me to meet your mum on Sunday, and now you're dumping me?"

But other subplots (the dead man's wife; the train conducter under the strain of guilt, the reporter and his knocked-up girlfriend) tend toward a series of in-jokes that you can't quite get. Until, that is, the progression finally brings eventual clarity. To some, it'll seem like a rewarding experience with a feel good message; others might be too bored, puzzled or disgruntled to feel particularly fulfilled. It is, however, held to a very sensible 100 minutes, and the quality of earnest observation is tangible.

Director Watt's preference for low dramatic pressure doesn't show up in her fine judgement in a surprisingly confident soundtrack. Credited to Amanda Brown, it includes three powerfully delivered songs that energizes the themes in the movie while slightly overpowering the low wattage of the episodes.

But the emotional thread is clear, and its heart lies in unpretentious Clarke, an intuitive actress who shares a touching everywoman quality with Michelle Williams and Renee Zellwegger. If anything carries the movie, it's her fearful, undemanding personality. It's she who brings the train of events to a final destination of empathetic wholeness.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


The Soundtrack Album The DVD (U.S. version available 6/27/06)


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Comments from readers:
Well written
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 10

I loved the movie. I thought all of the characters were so endearing in their flawed human ways, ways we can all relate to to some extent.

                                                           ~~ Beth L. 




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Justine Clark and William McInnes
Not looking both ways.
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