White is Australia’s first and only Nobel Laureate for literature and this is
the novel that cemented the prize for him in 1973. It might seem like a logical but daunting
work for an Australian filmmaker to tackle.
It turns out Fred Schepisi was the man to do it, along with screenwriter
Judy Morris. Death and family are
equally inconvenient in the unusually tart and literate The Eye of the Storm (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Hunter family’s grand matriarch is dying, but Elizabeth is determined to go out
on her own terms. This requires the
requisite homecoming of her somewhat estranged son and daughter, for a final
opportunity to pass withering judgment on their life choices. It is not a prospect either Basil or Dorothy
relishes, but they could certainly use their share of Mother Dearest’s fortune.
Hunter is not destitute. An actor of
more fame than talent, he is a local celebrity made good, but remains ragingly
insecure. The divorced Dorothy is actually
an aristocrat by marriage, but she is definitely title-rich, cash-poor. While Mrs. Hunter always professed greater
disappointment in her son, it is the daughter who harbors the deeper grudge,
for reasons that are revealed in a series of flashbacks.
a concept, emotionally stunted siblings watching their overbearing mother
precipitously decline mentally and physically might sound appallingly
depressing, but Eye is surprisingly
witty. It is sort of like witnessing
Noel Coward characters at a time of existential crisis. While White’s stream-of-consciousy work is
notoriously resistant to dramatic adaptation, Morris opens it up quite
nicely. Paul Grabowsky’s gently swinging
score, featuring Branford Marsalis’s rich, silky soprano saxophone, also helps
keep the mood from getting too maudlin.
the core family drama works remarkably well.
It is universally relatable, yet distinctly and idiosyncratically
dysfunctional. The perfectly cast,
once-in-a-lifetime trio of Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, and Judy Davis
makes Morris’s cutting dialogue sing and verbally dance. Observing them play with and against each
other is a true movie-going pleasure.
Unfortunately, the subplots involving Mrs. Hunter’s private nurses do
not have the same verve. In fact, the treatment
of Nurse Lotte, a caricatured Holocaust survivor, borders on the exploitative. However, there is something redemptively
humane about John Gaden’s portrayal of family friend and solicitor, Arnold
Despite the occasional misstep, Eye is a classy literary package,
considerably more cinematic than the average BBC television production it could
find itself compared to. Offering three
great lead performances, an excellent supporting turn, and an appealing
soundtrack, the film has much to offer, all of which are elegantly marshaled by
Schepisi, a strangely under-appreciated director. Recommended for discriminating adult
audiences, The Eye of the Storm opens
this Friday (9/7) in New York at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Australian cinema, Branford Marslis, Charlotte Rampling, Fred Schepisi, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Patrick White