Coolly intelligent, elliptical and ultimately satisfying, “What I Have Written” probes into delicate questions of marital infidelity and sexual obsession with wit and unusual honesty. Consummately acted and produced on an amazingly tight budget, the film, if carefully handled, could catch on with a sophisticated audience internationally.
The complex screenplay, which John A. Scott has based on his own novel, has quite a few twists and turns that subtly lead the viewer to question assumptions that have been too quickly made. Early scenes are deliberately confusing, as lead actors Martin Jacobs and Angie Milliken appear to be playing two sets of characters whose lives overlap.
Christopher (Jacobs), a lecturer at a Melbourne university, has been on holiday with his wife, Sorrel (Milliken), in France; the relationship appears to have disintegrated during the time they were in Europe, and, on their return to rain-swept Melbourne there’s a palpable tension in the air.
In a potent series of stills, accompanied by an anonymous voiceover, we see a similar couple, played by the same actors, now called Avery and Gillian, whose marriage is in crisis. In Paris, Avery meets a sexy older woman, Catherine (Gillian Jones), at a literary function, and later lunches alone with her. They presumably have an affair, and after Avery returns to Australia, they commence an erotic correspondence, with Catherine’s letters sent to the home of a colleague, Jeremy Fliszar (Jacek Koman). It gradually becomes clear that Avery, Gillian and Catherine are characters in an autobiographical book Christopher is writing, and that Catherine’s real name is Frances.
At this point, Christopher suffers a debilitating stroke, lapses into a coma and is hospitalized. Some time later, Jeremy asks Sorrel if he can publish the novella her husband completed before his illness. She has never heard of the book, and reads it with horror, convinced Christopher and Frances were having an affair.
But things aren’t quite what they seem to be, just as the Leonardo da Vinci painting Jeremy often uses in his art classes takes on a different meaning depending on which perspective the viewer takes.
Reviewers may have trouble describing this film without giving away too much about how the plot develops; this could become the “Usual Suspects” of relationship pictures. In any event, the intriguing screenplay has been beautifully realized by director John Hughes (making his second feature after the political drama “Traps” 10 years ago.)
Of the four principals, Koman is outstanding as Jeremy; scenes between him and Milliken’s Sorrel contain a subtle but powerful charge of tension and eroticism. Milliken grows into her role with complete conviction. Jacobs has less to work with as the wayward Christopher, though his hospital scenes are effective. As the seductive older woman, Jones exudes a lifetime of excess.
Dion Beebe’s smart cinematography is crisp and clean, Uri Mizrahi’s editing is precise, and there’s a most subtle music score by John Phillips, David Bridie and Helen Mountfort; the use of the Julie London version of the standard “Love Letters,” which overlays a crucial scene, is a clever touch.
Above all, the film works because it knows just how and when to conclude this intriguing story of infidelity. Fade-out should leave audiences arguing the pros and cons of the affair for hours afterward.