I usually like to explore other people’s experiences and reviews on something before I commit to it, but in some circumstances you really have to trust your judgment (or your girlfriend’s judgment). With no trailer or reviews online, the Daughter was one of those things that I just had to trust my gut with – and wow… it was definitely worth the plunge as my first film at the Sydney Film Festival.
The Daughter is an atmospheric visit into the lives of two families whose buried secrets are threatened when Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to his hometown for the wedding of his father (Geoffrey Rush) and a woman “old enough to be his daughter” (Anna Torv). While in town, he reunites with old friend Oliver (Ewen Leslie) and his wife Charlotte (Miranda Ottto), daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) and grandfather Walter (Sam Neil). I won’t give away more than that because I don’t want to ruin the mystery surrounding this film, which I felt played into my overall enjoyment of The Daughter. There really is a sense of wonder coming into a film that you know nothing about and becoming completely engrossed in the experience. It’s something you don’t get anymore, especially when the trailers to films reveal the entire plot or market the film as a comedy when it’s actually a very depressing drama where the lead plays himself having an existential crisis (pretty much every Adam Sandler film).
This effort marks Australian writer and director Simon Stone’s foray into the world of film. Coming from a background in theatre, including a recent Belvoir Theatre stage adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Wild Duck which inspired the film, it is easy to see how this has influenced the directorial choices in his film. Each shot is long and beautifully played out which allows the actors to really explore themselves and interact with the space. The result is lovely, sometimes actors only have little more than a few seconds to express an emotion as succinctly as possible for a scene, but in The Daughter you can watch the character’s emotions build and be there with them as they reach their limits in their own time. Not through some editing magic. You know? Long-shot of them sinking to their knees. Slow zoom towards them feeling the intensity. Quick cut to a close-up of their face as they break down. Cut back to a medium-shot of them in their surroundings. No. The Daughter keeps the lens focused on its subjects and stays with it through pain, through joy, through torture. I have to say acting was on point for each of the actors. Stone really gave each actor their time to shine, each of them had their big moments and their small moments.
Another directing choice that I quite enjoyed were the visual metaphors and symbols present throughout the movie. The earliest metaphor presented to the viewer is the closing of a timber mill and a duck with a broken wing. A cliché of healing and learning how to fly settles in, but Stone dances around the cliché, never focusing his lens too deeply on it. The duck, rather, acts as a wonderful contrast to everything falling apart around it and becomes this bittersweet reminder that time eventually does heal everything, but the scars can make you weak. Cinematographer Andrew Commis did an excellent job telling the story through each frame. You could take away the sound and dialogue and still understand the story just from the images. One of my favourite shots from the movie is this really simple 8 second scene. Geoffrey Rush sits on a white twig chair the morning after his wedding. He is alone. The twigs that make up the back of the chair are bunched over to the right side, however, there is this one lone twig hanging on the left of the chair. Take what you want from it, but its symbolic imagery like that paired together with great acting and soundtrack that brings this man to tears. Also a round of applause for composer Mark Bradshaw who’s string based soundtracks really tugged at my heartstrings.
Also for all the UNSW students. There are a few scenes in this film that will make you feel nostalgic. Prepare for drinks at the Roundhouse afterwards.
There are some films which make you feel like you’re in a cinema, munching on your popcorn, just watching a movie. Then there are films which transport you to another world, they place you a few feet away from the action and give you an opportunity to have a holy moment with the characters. The Daughter is definitely the latter of the two and worth your tears. Whenever it hits cinemas I definitely recommend giving it a watch.