The Turning: Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne Desperate Housewives Down Under

A movie can mean one thing to certain people, and induce a completely different reaction in others. And this would seem to be particularly true of the enigmatic Australian screen epic, The Turning.

Based on the wildly popular down under collection of short stories penned by bestselling Australian writer Tim Winton, the drama oddly boasts no less than eighteen different directors trying their hand at these seventeen often interrelated stories. But with the same characters in turn, so to speak, played by different actors. And at widely varying stages in their lives.

Now, ingenuity is by no means necessarily a flaw when it comes to the imagination applied to filmmaking. But one shouldn’t need a scorecard to decipher what in the world is going on from moment to moment in a movie – and by which different actors playing the same single bloke through the decades. That is, the fact that these stories are part of the school curriculum for children in many places across Australia and may be as familiar to them as nursery rhymes, notwithstanding.

On the other hand, it can’t be denied that amid the ongoing mystifying perplexity and confusion for let’s say, an outsider audience, there are moments of sheer pleasure that transcend geographical borders. And exist within the realm of tender and heartfelt, when not troubling emotional impact.

Perhaps the most vividly realized among these vignettes is The Turning – sharing the title of the film. Rose Byrne in potentially one of the most magnificent performances of her career, however abbreviated, plays Rae, a vulnerable and violated woman – a trailer park mother and battered housewife routinely brutalized as a victim of domestic violence by her terrifying alcoholic husband.

The timid and withdrawn woman initiates an odd friendship one day in the laundromat, with a middle class housewife (Miranda Otto) who has found her own salvation as a born again evangelist. And in one of the strangest and most affecting scenes in movies, Rae floats in spirit above the tragic horror being visited upon her by her vicious spouse, to convene with a godly vision emerging in her mind from a religious snow globe.

Which is not to say that these stories are perpetually grim, though many are. One surprising and immensely impressive interlude, Long Clear View, signals the promising directing debut of actress Mia Wasikowska. And which combines with eccentric humor and an ultimate hint of dread, the childhood of a withdrawn young boy in potentially pathological maturation. And youth as an exceedingly less blissful stage in life that is usually the case in movies, equally inhabits the tense and affecting Aquifer. Which concerns the remains of a boy discovered in the woods, and the anxious adult lurking about who may or may not having something to do with it.

While providing much needed occasional comic relief, is Cate Blanchett, likewise an offscreen celebrity consigned to domestic duties as Rose Byrne here. As the grouchy housewife prepares a holiday roast in her modest kitchen, while not exactly looking forward to the arrival of her mother-in-law. Though alcohol nicely rinses away the glum proceedings later on, as Blanchett revels in memories of ‘that ten year old naughty feeling.’ When the family unknowingly breaks into a neighborhood backyard pool, leaving a telltale flip-flop behind.

The Turning: An occasional ordeal as much for admittedly clueless audiences unfamiliar with the source material, as for the characters. But for those with patience, the periodic pleasures of bracing yarns inhabiting this extended narrative journey.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.