Directed by Ray Lawrence
back to that moment when you've climaxed at someone else's
expense. You've just slept with your co-worker, and you
picture your girlfriend's face. You've just had sex with
some cute stranger, and you imagine holding your boyfriend's
hand. When the smoke clears and you acknowledge the fact
that someone, somewhere, will be hurt by the fact that your
privates have just realized their pleasure potential--that's
a bad moment.
Show me a happy couple that claims to have survived a betrayal
of sexual trust, and I'll show you two procrastinators.
In the aftermath of infidelity, the question of deterioration
isn't if, but when. Recovery may be possible, but the suffering
always comes first.
We cheat when we think that we're missing something, and
this dissatisfaction leads to our sacrificing long-term
love for short-term pleasure. We don't consider the consequences
of our actions, so we lay down with the wrong people. There
are serious consequences to betrayals of trust in a relationship.
Not just with sex--though more often than not with sex--but
with all betrayals, large and small. That's what Australian
director Raw Lawrence explores in his second feature-length
project in 17 years.
could be rightly compared to Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia.
Both films feature several simultaneous storylines and multiple
main characters of equal importance, and both rely on coincidence
to drive--and control--the tight sprawl of a plot. But what
Magnolia attempted, Lantana accomplishes. This is
a quiet, strong film that's a bit heady at times, but never
gets too heavy. Unlike Magnolia, it isn't impressed by itself,
and so doesn't strive to impress its viewers.
When discussing his Raymond Carver menagerie Short Cuts,
director Robert Altman explained that he cast two dozen
big-name actors not for the box-office draw, but so that
the audience could keep all the characters straight. We're
less likely to confuse famous faces than unknowns, he said.
In Lantana, each character is so well drawn and believable
that you can't possibly mistake them for each other, even
though you're likely to recognize only Geoffrey Rush and
Barbara Hershey, and maybe Anthony LaPaglia.
In large part, Lantana concerns four marriages, each
with its own emotional and sexual history.
Leon and Sonja are held together by habit and children.
He's a detective who's recently begun an affair with Jane,
a woman in a dance class that he attends with Sonja. They
have two sons and have fallen into that comfortable yet
oft-frustrating routine of familiarity.
John and Valerie are held together by grief. John is Dean
of Law at a nearby university; Valerie is a therapist who's
written a bestseller about their daughter, murdered a few
years back. Among her clients are Sonja and Patrick, a gay
man who's having an affair with a married man who, it is
suggested, may actually be John.
Nik and Paula are held together by love and struggle. They
have a couple kids, no money, but lots of affection. Their
neighbors are Jane and her soon-to-be-ex-husband Pete.
Jane and Pete are recently separated. In the second scene
of the film, Jane has sex with Leon. Pete would like to
reconcile with Jane, but she'd rather develop the affair.
You don't really need to remember any of this. Director
Lawrence has a fine hand for exposition and development,
and lets his audience learn everything as the story unfolds,
quietly, slowly, sometimes with short but dense scenes.
Unlike in Magnolia, none of the characters here are outrageous
or provocative. There are no grandstanding performances
and, most importantly, there's no need for a rain of frogs
to tell the viewer when the climax has arrived.
An audience will accept one major coincidence in a story.
But what's the difference between normal, acceptable intersection
and contrived coincidence? If one accepts Lantana,
then Sydney, Australia, is quite similar to Prague. Or,
maybe it's the other way around: After living in the tinytown
of Prague, the web of Lantana is realistic. There,
as here, you will run into your secret lover while walking
down the street with your co-worker. You will watch your
girlfriend and your fuck-friend become accidental acquaintances
on a dance floor. You will somehow find yourself standing
next to the man you're cuckolding.
Lying is a bad lifestyle choice, and small betrayals build
up. They infect. Lantana suggests that those who
live among lies will always see lies. Just as you must be
arrogant to be paranoid, the guilty are usually the most
suspicious of others. Thieves expect to be robbed; liars
expect to hear only untruths. If you betray those around
you, you will expect to be betrayed.
The best audience for this film is intelligent, but not
overly clever. Betrayed, but not hardened. Those who have
never experienced a committed relationship--or its agonizing
deterioration--may not appreciate this movie.