Undermines viewers with annoying gaffes in plot and character logic and odd shifts in tone.

When a Sydney couple travel to chaotic Calcutta to collect their adopted child, the drawn-out process strains their already fragile marriage in the uneven drama “The Waiting City.” Quasi-mystical second feature from Aussie helmer-writer Claire McCarthy (“Cross Life”) lyrically presents the many faces of India and the country’s strong spiritual appeal through Western eyes. But despite convincing thesping and vivid lensing, the pic undermines its grip on viewers with annoying gaffes in plot and character logic and odd shifts in tone. Pic will open on home turf next year, but foreign exposure is likely limited to fest dates and ancillary.

Arriving in Calcutta sans some of their luggage, high-powered lawyer Fiona (Radha Mitchell) and her laid-back musician hubby Ben (Joel Edgerton) quickly get a taste of what it’s like to operate on Indian time. After getting little satisfaction at the baggage claim (“This is India,” a tired worker proclaims), they face an irritating wait for their hotel-dispatched driver, Krishna (Samrat Chakrabarti).

Things don’t go smoothly with the adoption, either. As the agency continues to put off their appointment, long-unresolved relationship issues start to surface. Fiona and Ben ultimately grate on each other’s nerves to the point of separation.

As the pic progresses, the way the multiple themes of McCarthy’s script play out starts to feel overly schematic and often forced. Moreover, the information slowly revealed about the couple’s past and personal secrets might have had more impact if incorporated earlier on.

Mitchell, also credited as an executive producer, nails the character of an abrasive Type A personality gradually accepting her lack of control. Likewise, Edgerton credibly plays the initially more passive partner who progressively develops maturity and strength. Thus, it’s even more of a shame when McCarthy ends several intense emotional scenes between the two by resorting to visual cliches.

Standout lensing by Denson Baker modulates from an intimate semi-verite style within the closed confines of the couple’s luxury hotel to a more distanced, observational stance as they move outside. A DV camera into which they separately express their hopes and fears about parenthood becomes a dramatic marker in their relationship.

The rest of the strong tech package makes Calcutta palpable.

The Waiting City

Australia

Production

A Hopscotch Films release of a See Pictures, Sol Films production, with support from Screen Australia, in association with the New South Wales Film & Television Office, Spectrum Films & Efilm. (International sales: H20 Motion Pictures, London.) Produced by Jamie Hilton, Claire McCarthy. Executive producers, Mark Horowitz, Lawrence Myers, Radha Mitchell. Directed, written by Claire McCarthy.

Crew

Camera (color), Denson Baker; editor, Veronika Jenet, music, Michael Yezerski; production designer, Pete Baxter; costume designer, Justine Seymour; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrew Plain; associate producers, Greg Cobain, Tess Joseph, Denson Baker. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 16, 2009. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Radha Mitchell, Joel Edgerton, Samrat Chakrabarti, Isabel Lucas, Tillotama Shome. (English, Bengali dialogue)

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