This is the first in my new series of Holiday Special Retrospectives, and since the holiday is Australia Day, the film will be my favourite Australian films: the 2001 gem LANTANA.
Lantana, directed by Ray Lawrence and written by Andrew Bovell based on his play Speaking in Tongues, is one of the rare Australian films that possesses a truly universal feel. An odd foray into adult drama from a country so determined to bring you various shades of Muriel. Lawrence manages to tackle the intricacies of adult relationships whilst maintaining a rather thrilling mystery as its central narrative device.
Lantana like the weed it's named after weaves together a host of tangled lives - no heroes, no villians - just a group of men and women struggling to lift their heads out of the muck. Lantana is a film about our proclivity to misplace things: trust, affection, resentment, hurt, rage and the all the people who get hurt along the way because of it.
With perhaps the greatest cast assembled for an Australian film, I only wish to single out one shining light - Anthony LaPaglia as Detective Leon Zat. LaPaglia has fallen off the map in recent years, but Lantana stands as testament to his unique talent as an actor. His performance carries at once the size and weight to fill the shoes Bovell's stage creation, yet the intimacy, vulnerability, and truth to blow everyone else off the screen. The tough but repressed Aussie bloke struggling to come to terms with changes around him and demands to 'open up' emotionally is a common archetype in Australian films, but none have done it as well as Mr. LaPaglia, and sometimes I'm afraid no one will again.
Lanata is a masterpiece of tone and maturity, that cares for it's characters whilst not shielding them from the horrors of the world (a rare balance). It is my favourite Australian film, perhaps because, it is unlike so many others. You should see it, or rewatch it - and a rainy Australia Day public holiday seems like just the right time.