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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 62.22)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Animated menus

Lantana (Rental)

Palace Films/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 116 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

It's funny, in a way, that the Australian films that seem to get all the big-media attention are the ones that kick serious financial butt in "The States", usually by taking those things that outsiders regard as being quintessentially Australian and amplifying them to a larger-than-life level, then mixing it up with a solid dose of Hollywood-style kitsch because, well, you're supposed to make movies that way. Oh, make no mistake, it's not just Australian cinema that suffers this ignominy; after all, most non-film-buff types think of British cinema as The Full Monty and Four Weddings and a Funeral times a thousand. But those wacky Australians - why, they seem incapable of making a film that isn't brash, confronting and downright quirky! They're so good at it! Muriel's Wedding! Priscilla Queen of the Desert! Moulin Rouge! (hell, that last one even has an exclamation mark in its title!!!) But serious Australian films? Naah, they don't make those any more, do they? Didn't all that go out of fashion with the world when Peter Weir went international?

Well, actually no. Australian cinema has for a great many years been producing accomplished films that haven't attracted the kind of patriotic attention that seems mandatory for both the defiantly-strange big-budget efforts and those others that seem to so desperately want international sales they come out the other end looking and feeling like they were American product. For every glitz or hype-packed extravaganza there's a couple of dozen fascinating stories captured on film and plaintively looking for a distributor; many eventually go straight to video and never reach the audience they so richly deserve (though the ever-growing popularity of DVD is starting to change all that).

Then there are the ones that get attention simply through word of mouth. Lantana is one such film. Its may have looked deceptively unambitious and claustrophobic in its pre-release trailer, but as soon as the finished film started getting shown people started talking about it. By the time last November's Australian Film Institute Awards rolled around, Lantana was the hot favourite to be seriously lauded. And it was; it won the seven biggest non-technical awards you can get, including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. If you're thinking that makes Lantana sound like it's something of an actors' showcase, you'd be right (it was, after all, adapted from a stage play). But this is no dry, wordy exercise in intellectualism - exquisitely crafted and cleverly constructed, it's one of the most entrancing human dramas in recent memory.

While ostensibly a kind of low-key murder mystery and an exhumation of the dark underbelly of everyday life (it opens, in a shot eerily reminiscent of the opening of David Lynch's Blue Velvet, with a corpse lying in Lantana bushes and examines with almost dispassionate detail the events that led up to that moment) Lantana is first and foremost about something way more interesting than any of that. It's about the breakdown of relationships (in this case, four marriages) to the point where they become habit and obligation. Long-time cop Leon (Anthony LaPaglia), for example, has become unable to feel much at all despite having what appears on the surface to be the perfect marriage to Sonja (Kerry Armstrong, whose performance is remarkable). Unable to feel anything, that is, except anger, which he takes out on the rest of the world as much as he does on himself. He's having an affair with Jane (Rachael Blake) who is separated from her husband Pete (Glenn Robbins, completely believable in a non-comic role) and who lives next door to Nik and Paula, a solidly married couple whose loyalty is about to be tested by events involving the disintegrating marriage of psychiatrist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) and her cynically intellectual husband John Knox (Geoffrey Rush).

A tangled web? Absolutely, but Andrew Bovell's screenplay never lets the story get bogged down in either excess melodrama or needless detail; it's an exceptional piece of writing that unravels its stories and character detail with a natural ease that's purely riveting. But the best script in the world can't save a poorly made film; fortunately, this one benefits hugely from the intuitive skill of director Ray Lawrence (who won the Best Director AFI way back in 1985 for his terrific filming of Peter Carey's Bliss, and hasn't directed a feature since; hopefully it won't be as long a wait for the next one). Cinematographer Mandy Walker turns straightforward dramatic scenes into poetry with her inspired widescreen photography - this is a film that must be seen in its true aspect ratio to be properly appreciated. And the music score - by Paul Kelly along with a bunch of regular collaborators including guitarist Shane O'Mara - is spot-on, an earthily atmospheric companion to the events unfolding on screen.

Ultimately there's little point in trying to describe what this film is like - it's far better to see for yourself. Suffice to say that Lantana is so effortlessly good you come away wondering why they don't always make films like this. One thing's certain - Australian cinema is not only alive and well and delivering more fascinating movies than ever, but people are actually paying attention to a greater depth and breadth of them. And though Baz may get all the press, it's the Lantanas of this world that make that happen.

  Video
Contract

Beautifully transferred to digital video at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and naturally 16:9 enhanced, this transfer of Lantana is as close to perfection as it's possible to get without buying shares in the Sony HD Center. Right from the outset, the image is clear and sharp (but not over-sharp) and loaded with detail. Colour resolution is strong but completely natural, and the more difficult scenes in the film - scenes shot with deliberately overexposed backgrounds, for example - come up perfectly on DVD. Shadow detail is excellent save for a couple of shots where the closest thing to black is a kind of murky brown; with the rest of the transfer so spot-on in terms of colour and contrast balance this was obviously intentional.

There's so little to complain about with this transfer that it seems almost churlish to point out the minor glitch that is visible early on, at the 4.19 mark. As Leon's car pulls in to the kerb, the image seems to "skip"; a close frame by frame look reveals that a single frame is repeated twice here for no immediately apparent reason. Probably a digital video error, it'll hopefully be rectified for the sell-through version of the disc. All that said, most people won't even notice it.

There are no compression problems evident at all throughout the film's two hour running time.

If you're hearing-impaired, hopefully you can read lips - there are no subtitles on the disc (presumably there will be on the sell-through version).

Though labelled as a single-layered disc, this rental edition is actually dual-layered, with the layer switch at the 62 minute mark extremely well placed and smoothly handled. The film only uses a gigabyte or so of the extra space afforded by the dual-layer format, but since the transfer looks so good there's no need to be pedantic about that.

  Audio
Contract

The two audio streams on the disc give renters the choice between the original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of the movie's audio as heard in cinemas, or the Dolby Surround version prepared for non-digital cinemas and, of course, VHS and television.

The 5.1 mix is noticeably cleaner and better defined - even in downmix - than the Surround version. This is a heavily dialogue-centred movie, and much of the time it's only the centre channel that is pressed into service in any meaningful way; Paul Kelly's music score, though, is mixed in full 5.1 and sounds terrific. Much use of the surround stage is also made for the various ambient noises of suburbia and nature that are an almost constant - if usually extremely subliminal - feature of the soundtrack; the frenzied chirping of cicadas and other creatures is used at an extremely high volume for effect on occasion (such as during the opening scene of the film) and occasionally get so loud you are in danger of trying to swat the invisible insects away and wiping out a beer, a bowl of chips and your right surround speaker instead.

The LFE channel is used well and extremely sparingly, the audio team resisting the urge to succumb to the usual SES problem (Subsonic Everything Syndrome).

The Dolby Surround track, by the way, is correctly flagged as surround for those of you with receivers that pay attention to such things.

  Extras
Contract

This version of Lantana is only available for rental, and as such contains only the film and some advertising; however, the sell-through version will apparently contain a bevy of extras including multiple commentaries, and sounds like it's well worth waiting for.

On start-up, those renting this disc will be confronted by a pair of coming-soon trailers from film distributor Palace. The first is for the Merchant-Ivory film The Golden Bowl, and is in 16:9 with Dolby Surround audio and absolutely awful picture quality that looks like VHS with interference. The second is a 4:3 trailer for Swedish director Josef Fares' shot-on-video Jalla! Jalla!, also with Dolby Surround audio. Both trailers are skippable.

Aside from those, the only extra niceness on the disc is the beautifully designed animated main menu, which is very elaborate for a rental disc and presumably is a sneak preview of the sell-through version's menu system.

  Overall  
Contract

One of the finest films of last year regardless of country of origin, Lantana is an unpretentious, mature and insightful piece of storytelling, acting and filmmaking that's a breath of fresh air and a reminder, as if any was needed, that the best movies are always the ones that don't need to get hyped like diet soft drink, but instead get to stand on their own merits.

This rental-only DVD presents the film beautifully and near-flawlessly; we'd say "rush out and buy it," but you can't. However, with quality like this on the rental version, the sell-through edition that's coming later in the year looks likely to be a must-have.


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      And I quote...
    "...presents the film beautifully and near-flawlessly; we'd say 'rush out and buy it,' but you can't."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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