A widowed Aussie farmer who's opted out of the human race and a traumatized Afghani refugee meet in the finely crafted meller "Unfinished Sky."

A widowed Aussie farmer who’s opted out of the human race and a traumatized Afghani refugee meet in the finely crafted meller “Unfinished Sky.” Writer-director Peter Duncan’s loose remake of the 1998 Dutch hit “The Polish Bride” remains faithful to basics — and even features thesp Monic Hendrickx reworking her earlier role — while wringing satisfying changes to the tale’s romantic and thriller intricacies. An affecting character study for mature viewers, pic won the audience vote at the Brisbane fest and has claims for arthouse exposure. Netherlands release is set for January 2008, with Oz rollout to follow.

Duncan’s most fully realized feature, and his first since 1999′s “Passion,” opens with wordless snapshots illustrating a day in the life of John Waldring (William McInnes) on his isolated farm in southeast Queensland. In his mid-40s and bordering on the unkempt, he’s barely going through the motions when the battered figure of Tahmeena (Hendrickx) staggers onto his property and collapses. Without emotion, he carries the frightened woman inside, while grainy flashbacks indicate she has suffered a violent sexual assault.

Communication is the big problem: She speaks little English and he has little patience. But after several days of recuperation and the tentative establishment of trust, strong-willed Tahmeena assumes housekeeping duties. Affronted at first, John thaws sufficiently to turn sleuth and discover evidence linking hotel owner Bob (Bille Brown) and his son Mike (Christopher Sommers) to the woman’s ordeal.

Methodically paced and carefully mapped out for the first couple reels, the story gets its thriller juices going when John lies to suspicious cop Carl (David Field) about Tahmeena’s whereabouts. With the threat of exposure generating slow-burn suspense, the screenplay reaches deeper into the complex emotional dynamic evolving under John’s roof. Whether or not the duo are willing to physically consummate their pact in the light of considerable obstacles remains a tantalizing question until deep into proceedings.

Tale is not without its humorous moments, with lovely vignettes of John attempting to teach Tahmeena the basics of Australian football and the visitor showing her host a thing or two about what constitutes a well-balanced meal.

Occupying the bulk of screen time together, McInnes and Hendrickx give expertly controlled perfs as the severely damaged strangers. Crisp lensing by Robert Humphreys subtly shifts from harsher tones in early sections to warmer palette as romance develops, and Antony Partos’ score uses scratchy blues licks and some “Vertigo”-esque string arrangements to strong effect. Other technical contributions are pro.

Unfinished Sky

Australia-Netherlands

Production

A Palace Films (in Australia)/A-Film Distribution (in Netherlands) release of a Film Finance Corp. Australia, New Holland Pictures (Australia) production, in association with IdtV Film, Vara Broadcasting Co. (Netherlands), with the support of Netherlands Film Fund, CoBO Fund. (International sales: Fortissimo, Hong Kong.) Produced by Cathy Overett, Anton Smit. Executive producers, Mark Overett, San Fu Maltha. Co-producers, Tom Hoffie, Robert Kievit, Hanneke Niens Directed, written by Peter Duncan, based on the screenplay "The Polish Bride" ("De poolse bruid") by Kees van der Hulst.

Crew

Camera (color), Robert Humpreys; editor, Suresh Ayyar; music, Antony Partos; production designer, Laurie Faen; costume designer, Jean Turnbull; sound (Dolby Digital), John Schiefelbein; sound designers, Annie Breslin, Will Ward; assistant director, John Clabburn; casting, Anousha Zarkesh. Reviewed at Brisbane Film Festival (Australian Cinema), Aug. 11, 2007. (Also in Pusan Film Festival -- World Cinema; Toronto Film Festival -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

William McInnes, Monic Hendrickx, David Field, Bille Brown, Roy Billing, Christopher Sommers. (English, Dari dialogue)

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more