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EXILE (director/writer/editor: Paul Cox; screenwriter: from a book “Priest Island” by E. L. Grant Watson; cinematographer: Nino Gaetano Martinetti; music: Paul Grabowsky; cast: Aden Young (Peter Costello), Beth Champion (Mary Byrne), Claudia Karvan (Jean), Norman Kaye (Ghost Priest), Chris Haywood (Village Priest), David Field (Timothy), Barry Otto (Sheriff Hamilton), Tony Llewellyn-Jones (Jean’s Father), Gosia Dobrowolska (Midwife), Hugo Weaving (Innes), Tammy Kendall (Alice), Nicholas Hope (Mckenzie); Runtime: 95; Beyond Films; 1994-Australia)
“It was well-crafted, but too symbolic and unmoving for my taste.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Paul Cox’s heavily laden symbolic religious drama is based on the novel Priest Island by E.L. Grant and tells the tale of a young man, Peter Costello, exiled to a lonely island after he is caught stealing sheep. The reason Peter steals the sheep is because he needs 50 of them before his girlfriend Jean’s father would accept him for marriage, as Jean urged him to get the sheep any way he could. The father says otherwise she should marry the more wealthy farmer, McKenzie, someone he prefers, anyhow.

As a punishment, Peter is left on the desolate island for the rest of his life with only a few rudimentary tools. If he escapes, he will be killed. He quickly learns how to survive by fishing and scavenging for plant food. Peter also begins to have visions, memory flashbacks, and becomes acutely observant. Peter watches the ocean waves bounce against the rocks, suppresses his sexual urges and feelings of despair, thinks about Jean, and reconciles to live out his uncertain life. In one of his visions he sees a ghost priest who was exiled to this island 300 years ago. The ghost supplies the knowledge that the common man should be searching inside himself for his soul. Peter is so wrapped up in his solitude that he begins to understand that there is no such thing as time or good and evil, and is reminded that the Earth needs love to be fertile. His most hopeful message is, “That your curse is your blessing, live in the now.”

When Peter’s friend Timothy visits, he learns that Jean married McKenzie and is reasonably happy. He later learns that she got pregnant but lost the baby during a rough childbirth.

Peter’s isolation is broken by a visit from a striking redhead named Mary, who was a maid at the same local inn Jean worked at. She goes to the island with some chickens and a goat to see the attractive man, but her row boat slips out of the anchor and so she remains on the island. So much for the isolation part of the tale, as he and Mary soon become lovers and she bears him a son. But she wants societal approval for their union and that their son should be baptized, and that the village priest marry them. The only thing Peter insists on, is that the kid be given the handle of Wolf. He says a name means something and that unchristian name will give him teeth to make others respect him.

The film concludes when the priest reluctantly comes to the island at the insistence of Timothy and baptizes the child, but refuses to give them a legal marriage ceremony in the name of God. When the priest leaves, the couple perform their own ceremony.

It was well-crafted, but too symbolic and unmoving for my taste.

REVIEWED ON 11/14/2001 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”