JOE CINQUE’S CONSOLATION

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(Warning: Spoilers based on historical events)

I haven’t read Helen Garner’s acclaimed account of the strange and distressing circumstances surrounding young engineer Joe Cinque, his girlfriend Anu Singh and their circle of acquaintances in Canberra in 1997, but I remember it being a book everyone was talking about. It came out in 2004 and focused on the trails of Singh and her friend Madhavi Rao in relation to Cinque’s death. From what I gather, it focused less on the events leading up to that death, which is precisely and solely the focus of this film, so it’s perhaps curious that the film is based on the book, given that its story ends, in a way, where the book’s began. In other words, this film version is not at all a courtroom drama, and readers of the book may be surprised.

Regardless, it’s a fascinating story – and a depressing one. Singh was a deeply troubled person at the time, a law student struggling with her studies, her body image and the workings of her brain. Deciding to commit suicide, she enlisted Rao to help her not only with the mechanics, but also with hosting a “farewell party” – a dinner party to which the invitees knew what they were in for – that is, that the host was going to kill themselves at the end. Their complicity in such a grotesque event beggars belief, and if the story wasn’t true you’d dismiss the fiction as ludicrous.

Canberra plays a big part in director Sotiris Dounoukos’ telling of the story; the film is repeatedly broken up by gorgeous, shimmering images of its greenery, its lake, and the idyllic sight of young students on campus, contrasting deeply with the grim tale going on in Singh and Rao’s cars and various houses, most of which have a definite student aesthetic. It seems to me that the strangeness of Australia’s man-made capital city is emphasised so much to give at least some potential explanation as to how a group of rational – smart! – young people could collectively behave so strangely. This is a weird place, the film seems to say, and this weird thing really happened here. Beyond that – a little frustratingly – there is no attempt to explain the actions of anyone at all, including Singh and, particularly weirdly, Rao. Perhaps it’s this simple: there is no possible explanation at all, beyond a moment of collective insanity. Low-key, adult, disturbing and compelling.

 

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

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Yet another muddled, over-long Tim Burton fantasia, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children works best as a young love story between Jake (Asa Butterfield, the boy from Hugo, who has grown into a very good looking young chap) and Emma (Ella Purnell), the girl on the poster who’s floating in the air. And the last half hour is a rather excellent extended action sequence. The beginning and middle, however, are laborious.

Jake’s grandad (Terence Stamp!) tells Jake stories of a “home for peculiar children” he attended in his youth. Through some form of time-slippery flibbetigibbit, Jake heads back to said school and gets to gape at the interesting kids, who do the things they do on the poster. That’s another good scene, I suppose, but only five minutes of one. At two hours and seven minutes, that’s one hour and thirty-two minutes of not-good movie to fidget through. Dull.

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