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Lions Gate/Palace Films
Official Site
Director: Ray Lawrence
Producer: Jan Chapman
Written by: Andrew Bovell, from his play Speaking in Tongues
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Vince Colosimo, Daniella Farinacci, Peter Phelps, Leah Purcell, Glenn Robbins

Rating: out of 5

A woman’s body—hair wild, stockings laddered, missing a shoe—lies face down in a wilderness. This sinister-looking scene launches into LANTANA, a story that is so very good and so very well acted that it gives me great hopes for movie-watching in 2002. Part meditation on the bonds of marriage, part detective story, the more I think back on LANTANA, the more impressed I am by it.

Based on Bovell’s play Speaking in Tongues, director Lawrence’s telling loses half a star for retaining a certain staginess and for a small-world quality—all the characters are lines that intersect—that probably plays better on the boards than on screen. That aside, it’s all “cherce.”

Leon Zat (LaPaglia) is a middle-aged detective, removed from his wife and dallying with a woman from their dance class. (What is it with those Ozzies and dancing, anyway?) His wife Sonja (Armstrong, marvelous) isn’t as unaware as he’d like to think she is, and is starting to consider what her needs are. Dr. Valerie Somers (Hershey) is a psychiatrist and author whose strength is all facade since she and her husband (Rush) lost their daughter to an unsolved violent crime a few years ago. Jane (Blake) is a woman at loose ends, separated from her husband, Pete (Robbins), but uncomfortable without a man in the picture somewhere. Only Nik (Colosimo) and Paula (Farinacci) D’Amato have a marriage without some obvious pathology.

As you should suspect, we’re entering a real boulevard of broken dreams here, a boulevard that comes to an abrupt end when one character goes missing, and another character discovers evidence that implicates a third character. Bovell has written his characters some wonderful reactions to these falling dominoes. Marriage, he seems to be saying, is where the rubber meets the road. When the going gets tough, you can count on marriage. As the camera glances on wedding bands in scene after scene, we see fully engaged partners demonstrate fierce attachment, support, and trust. Even estranged spouses, it appears, can reflexively and automatically form a united front when needed because marriage means we are in this together. It is where these things are lacking, where one partner leans and the other isn’t there to be leaned on, that tragedy strikes. Above all LANTANA is a testament to marriage, and one that holds up well on repeat viewing.

All this, and the police procedural aspect is not too shabby, either. With uniformly fine acting, and a stand-out performance by LaPaglia, LANTANA—named for the lovely, small-petaled shrub whose lush growth conceals some of the story’s mysteries—is another feather in the cap of the growing film biz Down Under. Highly recommended.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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