Utterly post-modern in its story and style, “The Goddess of 1967” is a sophisticated picture that could also get a handhold on younger audiences able to relate to anarchic characters, loud rock and pic’s futuristic treatment of the Australian outback, where the action unfolds. Its non-linear storytelling, jumping in and out of flashbacks and punctuated with experimental video, drawings and words on the screen, is hip without being confusing and generally pleasant to watch. But in the last analysis the film is rather empty at the core, as the leads’ existential problems boil down to childhood traumas, notably the oft-used drama of incest. Hong Kong director Clara Law, now relocated with scripter Eddie L.C. Fong to Australia, where they made the award-winning “Floating Life,” nevertheless succeeds in overlaying the magnificently lensed story with a very original vision and in generating some touching moments around the bizarre female characters, pointing to difficult but potentially rewarding release in specialized venues.
Yoshiyashi (Rikiya Kurokawa), a cold-blooded young snake collector who also turns out to be a talented computer hacker wanted by the police, leaves his Tokyo pets to go to Australia and buy the object of his dreams: a vintage Citroen DS, known to aficionados as “the Goddess.” When he arrives at the seller’s house, he finds the man has just killed his wife and committed suicide. His blind niece Deirdre (Rose Byrne) points out the brains on the ceiling and offers to take him to the real owner of the car, who lives five days’ drive into the outback.
It’s not a bad premise to get the film rolling, and the salmon-colored Goddess is an art director’s dream, forever stealing center frame. As the super-cool couple travels cross-country, they slowly let down their guard and a halting relationship develops. The story of Deirdre’s unhappy childhood unfolds in long flashbacks, telling how she was abused as a small child by grandfather Nicholas Hope, then made to pray for God’s forgiveness by her crazed (and also incested) mother. The ugly tale is offered as an explanation for the girl’s wild hunger for experience and her unconstrained behavior around men. The origin of Yoshiyashi’s inability to relate is another sad story involving the death of a buddy.
Though the nervously kinetic Byrne doesn’t always convince as a blind girl, she has strong screen presence and breaks loose in some extraordinary moments, like her unbridled freedom on the dance floor of a sleazy bar. The cool-as-ice Kurokawa, a male model making his acting bow, shows a flair for deadpan comedy as he struggles to make his infinite array of technology work, or awkwardly explains what things look like to someone who can’t see. Experienced thesps Hope and Elise McCredie, who plays Deirdre’s unhinged mom, offer a solid counterweight to the young couple’s dramatic lightness.
Film’s highly sophisticated look, created by cinematographer Dion Beebe, offers constant visual interest, reinforcing the story’s unnaturalness as it disorients the viewer with never-seen colors and perspectives. Law’s vision of Australia is not that far from Wim Wenders’ distanced but amused take on America, a land of endless vistas and dehumanizing geography. The idea is carried into the characters who, in their different ways, have an alien aura around them, an interplanetary bubble that bursts to reveal their human side. As Yoshiyashi tells Deirdre, “Tokyo is like living on Mars — the chocolate bar.”