[Note: This review was originally posted online on Nov 18, 05.]
*A 2006 U.S. Release*
Compelling coming-of-age films are hard to come by these days, so when one does, it should be recognized and rewarded appropriately. Winner of 13 Australian Academy Awards, Somersault not only offers a complex and thoughtful look at the burgeoning sexuality of its protagonist, but its debutante director Cate Shortlands unique and sensitive vision also transcends the film formally. Heidi (Abbie Cornish), our protagonist, is an attractive 16-year-old who runs away from home after getting caught kissing her mothers boyfriend. She ends up in a small ski-resort town, where she decides to use her sexuality as a means for discovering herself. It isnt long, however, that Heidi catches the eye of the local twenty-something Casanova, Joe (Sam Worthington), whos also experiencing an identity crisis. Initially, Heidi only represents the latest sexual escapade for Joe, but as she settles in the surroundings, he gradually discovers the invaluable effect shes had on him.
While the film is mostly seen from the point-of-view of Heidi, and rightfully so, the attention Shortland grants to Joe is noteworthy. Often, in these types of films, one finds the filmmaker simply circling around the protagonist, ultimately ending up with nothing to say. But in Somersault, this key secondary character is allowed a preeminent dimension thats even obscured from Heidi. Working with DP Robert Humphreys, Shortlands metaphorical excursions to depict her protagonists inner processes initially resemble Claire Denis trajectories from Friday Night (2003), but as her canvas is forced to expand with Heidis physical and emotional conquests, the new landscape almost certainly brings Lynne Ramsay to mind. Thats not to say that Shortland doesnt eventually find her own unique path -- she certainly does, only losing ground occasionally. But none of that wouldve mattered if it wasnt for the brilliant performances of Cornish and Worthington. Cornish, especially, conveys the emotional fragility of her character in a very tactile manner.
*SOMERSAULT premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard) in 2004. Magnolia Pictures will distribute the film in the U.S. starting on April 14th.
*The film is available on DVD in the U.K.