Lowdown: Issues of ethics and morality raise tensions in the middle of nowhere.
Jindabyne is a place we actually drove next to during our recent holidays excursion. "Next to" is a relative term here, because we were some 150km south of this town at the south east of New South Wales; but for a town with a population of 1600 in the middle of nowhere just being there on the road signs is a mighty achievement. And with that in mind, I had high hopes from this Australian film that takes place in the Jindabyne area.
The plot outline is fairly simple. An aboriginal woman is murdered, and the killer dumps the body somewhere along the river where no person should ever find it. However, this group of four man from Jindabyne who venture a bit out of town for their yearly male bonding fishing trip do stumble upon it. Thing is, instead of alerting the authorities about this body they have found they just continue their fishing activities, only to report the body as a mere afterthought when their expedition concludes. The rest of the film follows the tensions created by this act or rather by this lack of acting within the families of those man, within the Jindabyne community, and between whites and blacks (i.e., aboriginals).
That's it for the outline; things are much more complicated than that. Each of the four fisherman has his own complications, and each of them has his own family with complications. The lead example is Gabriel Byrne, who doesn't really get along with his wife Laura Linney. She is unstable and have left him for a while after their only child was born, and now she is pregnant again but won't tell her catholic husband because she looks for an abortion. Etc etc: There are complications aplenty, all emphasized by the rather surreal setting of Jindabyne - a very small community where everybody knows anybody, set as if on a planet of its own in the middle of nowhere.
Overall, the acting is superb and the obvious morality issues raised by the film are thought provoking and very well handled. But there are some catches: for a start, there is no character in the film one can truly identify with. All the characters are quite flawed, and flawed in ways that are pretty unique. Given the amount of flaws in town, Jindabyne becomes close to not passing as a credible story. There is also this weird atmosphere to the film that seems to be perpetuated and nurtured by the director, a feeling of ambiguity, that contributes to a certain level of confusion within the viewer. You can say it's natural and that's what real life is like, and I would agree, but the combination of that and the characters creates a film you watch from a distance rather than a film that takes place inside you.
Best scene: The conflict between Byrne's catholic mother and the disapproving Linney is well developed, and I have found the scenes depicting it to be easy to identify with given my inherent antagonism toward anything religious.
Picture quality: Obviously, this is a low budget film. That said, it has a very unique look: everything was shot in natural light. While on one hand this creates a grainy look, this also makes Australia look the way it is rather than a page from a Tourism Australia booklet.
Sound quality: Pretty good for a low budget film. All dialog is locked to the center channel, but the surrounds are thoroughly used for atmospheric purposes.
Overall: 3 stars, but the film is fairly unique; if it sound like this is your type of film, have a go - you might love it. Otherwise, give it a go just because unique films are hard to find nowadays.