Established short filmmaker Cate Shortland makes a confident leap into features with "Somersault." Sexual compulsion accelerates adolescent angst in the arty Down Under drama, but while Shortland shows a notable eye for detail, her distracted approach to narrative and a cold attitude towards her characters limit pic to serious-minded fest auds.

Established short filmmaker Cate Shortland makes a confident leap into features with “Somersault.” Sexual compulsion accelerates adolescent angst in the arty Down Under drama, but while Shortland shows a notable eye for detail, her distracted approach to narrative and an attitude to her characters that’s cold as the movie’s snowfields make pic most likely to be embraced by serious-minded fest auds. Pic will unspool at major Oz fests in June/July as a springboard for its skedded September release. Local B.O. looks to be solid, particularly if pic garners any souvenirs from its Cannes jaunt.

Caught coming on to her mother’s b.f., Heidi (Abbie Cornish) heads for the ski resort town of Jindabyne in search of a man she once had a fling with. When he rebuffs her over the phone, she picks up another john for the night, but he leaves her stranded the next morning.

By the time Heidi makes her third amorous approach, it is clear sex is the winsome blonde’s stock-in-trade. Her judgment in picking her marks, however, is seriously off-kilter.

Seeking refuge in a bar, Heidi’s approached by Joe (Sam Worthington), who had spotted her the night before. Unsure if she’s scamming him with her lost-girl persona, Joe takes Heidi to a motel for the night.

The next day when Joe leaves to feed cattle on his parent’s farm, Heidi becomes friends with the motel owner, Irene (Lynette Curran). Despite the fact that Heidi has no cash, she promptly convinces Irene to rent her a room. With equal velocity, Heidi lands a job at a local gas station and begins an uneasy friendship with teenage co-worker Bianca (Hollie Andrew).

Incidental characters and unexplored sub-plots abound, but the most important is the brief introduction of Bianca’s younger brother, Karl (Blake Pittman), who suffers from Asberger’s disease, a form of autism.

As Heidi’s relationships with others grow, the emotionally shut-down Joe starts to lose his balance. Pic eventually reaches a resolution that is obvious but unexpectedly profound in its simplicity. However, it also leaves the impression that the journey could have been completed much more succinctly.

Eschewing the beach or desert locations favored by many Australian films, “Somersault,” with its somber ski village setting, is more like a companion to Euro fare like “Morvern Callar” and “Lilya 4-ever” than a typical Oz pic. But the storyline lacks their appeal and intimacy.

Nonetheless, the fetching Cornish perfectly inhabits the waifish, yet demanding role of Heidi. Even when aspects of the meandering script seem nonsensical, Cornish’s thesping is seamless.

Worthington seems real enough as troubled bloke Joe, but the limited expressions of his character prohibit him from displaying a good deal of range. Supporting perfs are believable although the characters are too remote and fleeting to be more than ciphers.

Shortland appears to have a great fascination with objects like pine needles and gas jets, but the pic’s visual flourishes tend to be distracting in their restless artiness.

Robert Humpherys’ handheld lensing is awash with austere blues and has a predisposition for soft focus, both appropriate for the subject matter. Music by local band Decoder Ring manages to be distinctive without being intrusive as it captures the child-like mood swings of the central protag. Other tech credits are likewise professional.

Until very recently, film went under the title “More Than Scarlet.” Final title is an improvement but still doesn’t effectively capture the pic’s mood.

Somersault

Un Certain Regard / Australia

Production

A Hopscotch release of a Red Carpet Prods. production, in association with Film Finance Corp., New South Wales Film & Television Office, Showtime Australia. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Hong Kong.) Produced by Anthony Anderson. Executive producer, Jan Chapman. Directed, written by Cate Shortland.

Crew

Camera (Fujicolor), Robert Humpherys; editor, Scott Gray; music, Decoder Ring; production designer, Melinda Doring; art director, Janie Parker; costume designer, Emily Seresin; sound (Dolby Digital), Sam Petty; assistant director, John Martin; casting, Nikki Barrett. Reviewed at Greater Union screening room, Sydney, May 6, 2004. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Un Certain Regard.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Heidi - Abbie Cornish Joe - Sam Worthington Irene - Lynette Curran Richard - Erik Thomson Bianca - Hollie Andrew Diane - Leah Purcell Nicole - Olivia Pigeot Karl - Blake Pittman
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