A wife with a grievance takes revenge on her husband in "Alexandra's Project," a grim examination of the human condition from Aussie auteur Rolf de Heer. There will be lively pros and cons, which might engender the kind of controversy the film needs to find a niche in arthouses, while its Berlin fest slot will only be the first of future fest unspoolings.

A wife with a grievance takes revenge on her husband in “Alexandra’s Project,” a grim examination of the human condition from Aussie auteur Rolf de Heer. Moving from the expansive outdoor vistas of his last film, “The Tracker,” to the claustrophobic interiors of an “average” suburban house, de Heer again demonstrates his skills as he relentlessly depicts the screws turning on the hapless protagonist as his avenging wife punishes and humiliates him. However, the punishment seems out of all proportion to the “crimes” committed, so that the film becomes no simplistic pro-feminist tract but is, on the contrary, more complex and disturbing. There will be lively pros and cons as a result, which might engender the kind of controversy the film needs to find a niche in arthouses, while its Berlin fest competition slot will only be the first of future fest unspoolings.

As the opening credits unfold, Ian Jones’ widescreen camera prowls down suburban streets with their small houses and neat lawns. It comes to rest on the home of Steve (Gary Sweet), Alexandra (Helen Buday) and their two children. It’s early on the morning of Steve’s birthday, and, though he seems oblivious to the tensions in the air, he’s obviously in for a rough time. As the family goes through the morning routine, signs of unease appear. Against his family’s wishes, Steve is a secret smoker, and he won’t let Alexandra have money of her own or pay the bills, which obviously annoys her.

After Steve has gone to work, complaining about Bill (Bogdan Koca), the next-door neighbor, who has provided the house with security locks and blinds, Alexandra sends the children away and makes her preparations. At the office, where Steve works as a manager, he is given a birthday cake and a raise, so he returns home in good spirits.

And then his nightmare begins. There’s no sign of his family, and his present is a videotape. As he watches it, beer in hand, the children greet him before their mother sends them away. She then reveals how unhappy she is (“Darling, I’ve heard all this before,” Steve mutters, obviously bored). When Alexandra begins to strip for the camera, he reacts with a mixture of amazement and revulsion. And then, naked, she produces a gun which she aims at her own head, threatening suicide. She then reveals to the now thoroughly shocked and apprehensive Steve that she has cancer in both breasts.

This is only the start of the mind games and mental torture she imposes on the man she now obviously hates. The video camera reveals another man, the neighbor, with her; and Steve finds himself locked in his own house, the locks changed, escape denied him as the tape inexorably continues with more horrifying revelations, which take on an unusually sour edge that will unsettle and may even anger audiences as things progress.

De Heer’s concept is an ingenious one, and his two principal actors are superb. Sweet, last seen as the brutal cop in “The Tracker,” reveals a very wide range of conflicting emotions as he’s forced to assess his life and the wrongs she believes he has done to her, while Buday, in a bold performances, bares her body and soul to the relentless camera as she extracts an extremely savage revenge.

The camera prowls around the house throughout, while the film’s sound design is another creative element in a technically highly accomplished pic, which is the first production from Italo company Fandango’s Aussie offshoot.

Alexandra's Project

Australia

Production

A Palace Films release (in Australia) of a Fandango Australia-Palace Films presentation of a Vertigo production, with the assistance of the South Australian Film Corp. and support of the Australian Film Commission. (Intl. Sales, Exception Films, Paris.) Produced by Julie Ryan, Domenico Procacci, Rolf de Heer. Executive producer, Antonio Zeccola. Co-producers, Sue Murray, Bryce Menzies. Directed, written by Rolf de Heer.

Crew

Camera (Atlab color, widescreen), Ian Jones; editor, Tania Nehme; music, Graham Tardif; production designers, Ian Jobson, Phil Macpherson; sound (Dolby digital), James Currie; casting, Audine Leith. Reviewed at Frank Hurley screening room, Fox Studios, Sydney, Jan 28, 2003. (In Berlin Film Festival, competing.) Running time: 103 MINS.

With

Steve - Gary Sweet Alexandra - Helen Buday Bill - Bogdan Koca
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