Jindabyne and Durham County

Jindabyne and Durham County featured image

By Marc Glassman

Jindabyne. Ray Lawrence, director. Beatrix Christian, script. Based on the story “So much Water, so Close to Home” by Raymond Carver. Starring: Laura Linney (Claire), Gabriel Byrne (Stewart), Deborra-lee Furness (Jude), John Howard (Carl), Leah Purcell (Carmel), Stelios Yiakmis (Rocco), Chris Hayward (Gregory), Eva Lazzaro (Caylin-Calandria), Sean Rees-Wemyss (Tom)

Are men and women fundamentally different? That’s the kind of question you tackle in a second year sociology course, isn’t it? Imagine if you can, cutting the pretentiousness out of that query. Of course men and women aren’t the same although 40 years of feminist theory has certainly taught us that we’re equal. But are there basic ways in which we differ?

As your second year university prof might say, “let’s move from theory to practice.” Case in point: a film called Jindabyne, from Australia, based on a short story by America’s Chekhov, Raymond Carver. (Quick aside: didn’t I call Alice Munro Canada’s Chekhov last week? Yes, I did, and, as a short story aficionado, I’ll stand by both compliments.)

Carver’s story has the simplicity and beauty of a clear mountain stream. But still waters run deep, deceptively so, when it comes to Raymond Carver. A group of men, hard working blokes, head off for their one weekend away from wives and children, to go fishing in the lakes and rivers of Australia’s Snowy Mountains. They reach paradise only to be shocked by a terrible sight: a beautiful young woman is dead, killed, her body abandoned in one of those beautiful rivers.

The men are upset, terrified by the death. Still, the beauty of the trees, the rivers and the greenery amidst the deep, black soil paralyzes them. It is as if nature has them in its thrall. It is late in the day when they find the body, too late to make the long trek back to civilization. The next day, though, they do nothing for the girl except to tie her leg by fishing line to a tree overhanging the river. They go on fishing.

The day after, they finally head down to town and report the death. Pandemonium breaks out. The men are denounced as insensitive louts; some even call them racists because the dead girl is aboriginal. The garage owned by Stewart, the leader of the fishing expedition, is covered in angry graffiti slogans. His wife, Claire, is appalled, particularly because he told her nothing when he returned home and made love to her that night.

What is a man? What is a woman? Claire wants to make amends—to collect money for the dead girl’s funeral, to contact her family and express her sorrow and guilt. Stewart wants to do nothing. He is in denial.

Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose. But the man who committed the crime seems almost beside the point, now. A basic question has been raised. Would most men do what Stewart and his mates did? What would Claire and a group of women do, if they found a dead male body while out for a day in the country?

Ray Lawrence, who made Bliss, a great adaptation of a Peter Carey novel, years ago has created another brilliant film. Laura Linney, the intellectual’s sweetheart, is, once again, a revelation as Claire, a woman with a guilt-ridden past, who has resolved to do the right thing. Gabriel Byrne has been remarkable as an actor in films as diverse as the Coen Brothers’ noir classic Miller’s Crossing, the crazy part-animated, part-live action The Cool World and the thriller The Usual Suspects. Like Linney, you expect emotional honesty from Byrne, and he doesn’t let you down. Jindabyne is a must-see for adults looking for a real drama—and a chance to escape from the adolescent charms of Spidey-mania.

Durham County. Janis Lundman, Adrienne Mitchell, Michael Prupas and Laurie Finstad Knizhnik, producers. Holly Dale and Adrienne Mitchell, directors. L.F. Knizhnik, writer. 6 one-hour dramas produced for The Movie Network, Movie Central and Global Television. Starring: Hugh Dillon (Detective Mike Sweeney), Justin Louis (Ray Prager), Helene Joy (Audrey Sweeney), Laurence Leboeuf (Sadie), Cecily Austin (Maddie)

Canadian suburbs never seemed so bleak nor its characters as twisted before Durham County, a new series burst on the cable-TV scene earlier this week. An exceedingly dark tale, this well-made drama centres on the rivalry between Detective Mike Sweeney, a homicide cop, and Ray Prager, his nemesis from high school days. Now a plumber, Prager might have been a hockey star if Sweeney hadn’t destroyed his legs for competitive sports in a traffic accident. Angry, and willfully defiant, Prager refuses to help his son, a gifted writer, to go on a course that will develop his quite different talent.

Sweeney has his own axes to grind. His first wife is dead, his second is recovering from cancer and his partner was shot to death in front of him. Like Prager, Sweeney has a teenager, Audrey, with ambitions. She wants to be a cop, just like her dad—only he doesn’t like the idea.

Add to the mix a serial killer, marital infidelity, adolescent sex, domestic abuse and we have exceedingly adult television fare.

Directed by Holly Dale and Adrienne Mitchell; produced by Mitchell, Janis Lundman and Laurie Finstad Knizhnik, Durham County shows the strength and resilience of the first wave of Toronto filmmakers. Having started with docs in the ‘80s, followed by time spent at the Canadian Film Centre and then TV in the last 15 years, these writers/producers/directors are, at last, finding their niche in the global media community.

Durham County is wonderfully stylish and it features great performances by the leads, Hugh Dillon and Justin Louis. The suburbs are shot in a deliberately provocative manner, with electrical stations humming in the background behind abandoned rivers and trees. You can’t imagine Durham County existing before The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. In the new wave of TV series, this is a smart, adult entry—by Canadians.

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