WALKING ON WATER
(director: Tony Ayres; screenwriter: Roger Monk; cinematographer: Robert Humphreys; editor: Rava Childs; music: Anthony Partos; cast: Vince Colosimo (Charlie), Maria Theodorakis (Anna), David Bonney (Gavin), Nathaniel Dean (Simon), Nicholas Bishop (Frank), Anna Lise Phillips (Kate), Judi Farr (Margaret), Daniel Roberts (Carl); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Liz Watts; Wellspring; 2002-Australia)
“A genuinely moving and wisely unsentimental drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A genuinely moving and wisely unsentimental drama about a gay man’s death by AIDS and the influence he exerts over his close friends. It makes Philadelphia, Tom Hanks’ guarded Hollywood version of that theme, pale by comparison. Documentary director Tony Ayres in his first feature film and screenwriter Roger Monk, feature a painfully dying from AIDS young man named Gavin. He is nursed by his Sydney best friends and housemates Charlie and Anna. She’s also his business partner in a designing firm. The terminally ill Gavin rather than die in a hospice requests a merciful death at home, and a compassionate doctor supplies the morphine used for the euthanasia. When the ghost-like Gavin is still in pain as the overdose morphine injection doesn’t fully kick in, Charlie finishes the job by putting a plastic bag over his head to suffocate him–which takes away the dignified death requested. Also present is Frank, the bar-hopping, live-in lover of Charlie. The group invited Margaret, Gavin’s estranged mother, to visit from the South Australia country. She’s perplexed by the path her son took though still offering whatever support she could to his friends. But the mother never feels easy with them, and in death as in life she’s viewed as an outsider. She feels guilty because she wasn’t there for him, but tries to keep her private thoughts to herself and put up a good front rather than spoil the funeral. Gavin’s hunky brother Simon and wife Kate are also present.
After the death, the group mourn in their own hedonistic and sensitive ways. They await the funeral and hang around the house and nervously eat, finish off the morphine, do a line of cocaine, smoke too much weed and drink too much alcohol. Margaret retreats to a motel, where she feels she could escape from a situation she can’t reconcile. Slowly it becomes apparent that this is a drama that reaches beyond urban gay themes or of euthanasia, and is more about things that concern all young adults such as loyalty and friendship. Charlie and Anna are confronting some harsh realities about their life, things that they are now forced to face because of Gavin’s death.
Gavin’s former love of his life, Carl, is told by Charlie of his death, and memories are rekindled. There are further Gavin memories recalled through his clothes and other mementos found in the house. The house has been smartly decorated by production designer Rebecca Cohen and acts like a puzzle to the lives of the three featured players. These house disclosures explain Gavin’s significant presence to the group, and little by little we piece together life in the communal setting.
Anna is attractively gaunt and always tense. She takes charge of arranging the funeral and imperiously makes sure all Gavin’s last requests are carried out exactly. Simon stays after the funeral on the pretext of distributing Gavin’s ashes over a waterway, while his mother and wife return to the country. Not able to resist the uncomplicated Simon, Anna soon takes him to bed and goes nightclubbing with him in her decadent gay druggie haunts. Simon wants to feel alive and takes ecstasy at the club, but soon passes out and heads back to his safe wife and the security of country life.
Charlie is annoyed with Anna for fooling around with Gavin’s brother and inheriting his share of the house. He’s also dealt a severe blow when his restless lover splits. Anna and Charlie quarrel after both are feeling despondent and guilty. They realize that change is inevitable, and they need a change of scenery. The introspective drama was heartfelt in a realistic sense, though filled with melancholy. The gay scenes were handled with a smooth casualness. There’s also a chilling humor hanging over everyone’s head as they face their grieving period united in their love for Gavin. Later they return to their comfort world supplied only with suppositions but no final answers.
Vince Colosimo stands out, as he gives a tender performance that shows him at his strengths and vulnerabilities. Maria Theodorakis was exceptional in conveying all the complexities that she’s locked into and how fragile yet resilient she is, as her struggles like Charlie’s are in personal relationships. Just existing without stumbling is believed to be a miracle. It’s a novel take on a desperate situation, and makes for a richly layered story and one of the more perceptive films to come out of Australia in recent times.
REVIEWED ON 5/23/2003 GRADE: B +