That’s not a landscape.
Australian cinema is unique went it comes to characterising landscape, with the beautiful but uneasy world of David Michôd’s The Rover coming to mind as a recent example of the haunting elegance of the sunburnt country. Here’s a list of some of the most memorable depictions of Australian landscapes in film.
5 | Mystery Road (2013). Dir. Ivan Sev
Mystery Road is a beautiful and thrilling film set in Winston, Queensland. The narrative sets up uneasiness through its shady characters and plotting, building to a fantastic western shoot-out finale. Protagonist Jay Swan is a conflicted detective, who reluctantly returns to his home town to uncover the truth about a murdered Aboriginal girl. Swan detaches himself from his Aboriginal background and tries to enforce authority. Being on the ‘other’ side contradicts what his people have learnt to do -not to talk or trust cops. Writer/director Ivan Sev illustrates a rural, problematic white community who exploit young girls, while Mystery Road characterises these themes though its stunning cinematography. But where the film works best is in the depiction of a dry Australian climate. It seems to have made some characters a little crazy and allowed others to turn a blind eye to the community’s problems.
4 | Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Dir. Peter Weir
Based on Joan Lindsay’s book of the same name, Picnic at Hanging Rock is about three school girls and their teacher who go missing during a school picnic. Some say it’s true, others believe it’s a myth. Regardless, this is a haunting film that captures the serenity and mystic of Hanging Rock. More chilling is the lack of closure. No clues were found except a piece of lace, believed to be from one of the girl’s dresses. Picnic at Hanging Rock captures the landscape and hot climate of Australia, the camera projecting the scale of the vegetation and rock in contrast to the size of the young girls. The blinding sun against some of the scenes causes the characters dizziness and fatigue, surreally contrasting the rock’s beauty and the danger it presents.
3 | Snowtown (2011). Dir. Justin Kurzel
Beautifully shot, but horrific in content, Snowtown is based on the ‘bodies–in -barrels’ murders in the 90s. Set in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, Snowtown illustrates an economically poor and susceptible neighbourhood, deliberately targeted by the murderous John Bunting. Bunting, played brilliantly by David Henshall, is a typical Aussie bloke you’d meet at a pub, not the type that you’d think could incite hatred and murder. Overall. Snowtown may not illustrate a typical Australian hot climate, but it presents a certain bleakness in Australian suburbia.
2 | Mad Max (1979). Dir. George Miller
Mad Maxis set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world with no law and order. Motorcycle gangs, who rape and cause mayhem, rule the streets. After they meet and terrorise Max’s family, killing his son, it’s up to Max to put a stop to them. Staged through hyper-masculine car chases and general misconduct, Mad Max is an assault of destruction and reliance of technology. The camera work makes us feel part of every sequence and uses a distorted fisheye lens to enhance the atmosphere.
1 | Wake in Fright (1971). Dir. Ted Kotcheff
Wake in Fright opens with an isolated dry sequence in an outback school of Tiboonda, with a sense of isolation that is carried throughout the film. John Grant is a middle class English schoolteacher who leaves Tiboonda to visit his girlfriend in Sydney. Setting off in a train, Grant first has to stop in Bundanyabba (modelled on Broken Hill). Things go awry when Grant never manages to escape the town, as the surreal setting absorbs him. Wake in Fright has some weird and wonderful moments that compliment Grant’s alienation and need for modernity. It is a great character study of the town itself as its residents try to colonise Grant into one of their own. For Grant this means a waking nightmare.