True Love And Chaos

Dir. Stavros Andonis Efthymiou, 1997

AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE
“True Love and Chaos” is not a very well known movie – and also not a very successful one (The determination of which is cause and effect which may be left to the individual reader). It has failed to thoroughly convince most critics and has also not attracted a notable cult following. Reviews, as well as most other reactions to its story and style, are scarce and most of the time superficial. Nevertheless, as I will try to argue, it forms an excellent prototype for the genre of road movies and offers diverse approaches to its reading.

I. Film Information

DIRECTOR:
Stavros Andonis Efthymiou

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE:
May 22, 1997

CAST:

Mimi                           -           Miranda Otto

Hanif                           -           Naveen Andrews

Dean                            -           Noah Taylor

Morris                         -           Hugo Weaving

Jerry                            -           Ben Mendelsohn

Ariel                            -           Kimberley Davies

Hannah                        -           Genevieve Picot

Sam                             -           Saskia Post

Crazy Craig                 -           Hung Le

Out of it woman         -           Marieke Hardy

Country Singers          -           Pia Manning

                                                Des Mullen

                                                Antoinette Halloran

Rusty                          -           Matthew Dyktynski

Neil                             -           David Bowers

Morris’ Band              -           Stefan  Berg

                                                Martin Lubran

Bartender                    -           Peta Doodson

Female Soap Star        -           Constance Lansberg

Karaoke Compere       -           Lois Collinder

Karaoke Singers          -           Libby Stone

                                                Vivienne Benton

Truckstop Proprietor -           Penny Schlam

Affirmation voice        -           Tina Landis

 

And

Harry                          -           Stavros Andonis Efthymiou

PRODUCER:
Ann Darrouzet

SCRIPT:

 Stavros Andonis Efthymiou

CINEMATOGRAPHER:

Laszlo Baranyai

EDITOR:

Ken Sallows

PRODUCTION DESIGN:

Steven Jones-Evans

RUNNING TIME:

97 minutes

RATING:
M 15+

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR:

New Vision Films

LOCATION SHOOTING:

The shoot of main unit photography took place in Melbourne – Yarraville provided the appropriate inner city location. The Norseman approach to Perth (the “Nullarbor”-scenery) was actually filmed around Werribee.
Due to the very limited budget, all location shooting had to be completed within only two weeks, which is not all too much time for a movie (and a movie genre) that is so much defined by (and dependent on) its mise-en-scene.

MUSIC:

The Soundtrack features surprisingly big names, such as Nick Cave, Ash, Blondie, Tom Jones and Leonard Cohen. Miranda Otto and especially Hugo Weaving also contribute their own musical talents to the film.

BOX OFFICE FIGURES:

AUD 519,573 – giving it a position in the low 200s (currently 205th) of the 400 best grossing Australian films.
Compared to other Australian road movies, this is in the region of  “Welcome to Woop Woop” (Stephan Elliott, 1997), and about half the amount that “Kiss or Kill” (Bill Bennett, 1997), “Thunderstruck” (Darren Ashton, 2003) or “Running on Empty” (John Clark, 1982) grossed, but way behind “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Stephan Elliott, 1994) or even “Japanese Story” (Sue Brooks, 2003).

REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS & OTHER VIEWS:

It can be said that this movie has been fairly neglected, therefore there is not all too much information available about “True Love and Chaos”, neither in printed form, nor on the internet.
The sources that are nevertheless worth checking out are:

This page offers a plot synopsis and a 2.5 (out of 5) critic rating.

A very short review on cinefile. It basically denounces “True Love and Chaos” as a very ordinary and hopeless attempt to imitate American road movies.

A page on Urbancinefile with a plot synopsis and three reviews by Andrew L. Urban, Louise Keller and Paul Fischer.

Only a click away from the reviews is this interview with the Director, Stavros Andonis Efthymiou.

A short review of the DVD version (which came out in 2004, seven years after the movie!). Once more, the movie gets a 2.5 out of 5 rating.

A small page about “True Love and Chaos”, mainly focusing on Noah Taylor’s character and on his previous work with Weaving and Efthymiou.

The possibly shortest review ever – but nevertheless interesting for what it has to say:
“An Australian grunge road-movie. I feel like I've seen this before. The end was a bit gruesome.“

The Internet Movie Database (imdb) has a short plot summary and an extensive biography and filmography of the director and main and minor actors.
The imdb user rating (with currently only about 100 votes) is around 5.0 (of the maximum 10) – a clear “average”.

An interview with Hugo Weaving by Jayne Margetts (obviously an admirer of his).

An interview with Ken Sallows (editor of “True Love and Chaos” – and many more). Note the emphasis he lies on “quirkiness” in Australian cinema.
Sallows also describes the circumstances of the production of Efthymiou’s movies – and reveals that there was a project called “Revolver”, basically a “True Love and Chaos 2”, which was never financed.

This page offers extensive information about Hugo Weaving as well as the “True Love and Chaos Press Kit” with quite some useful information. Furthermore, it offers an almost complete list of interviews with Hugo Weaving since 1986.

II. Review

The first part of the review section will give an overview of prior and subsequent work of director and actors before going on to a short plot synopsis and a description of the critical uptake.
The second part will try to argue that “True Love and Chaos”, developed from the earlier “Road to Alice”, provides an excellent example of an Australian road movie, and will suggest a more “musical” reading.

PRIOR & SUBSEQUENT WORK OF ACTORS AND DIRECTOR:

Efthymiou went on to write “Strange Planet” (1999), “Russian Doll” (2001) and “Horse Play” (2003) (and also directed the last two – and all of them featured Hugo Weaving in a bigger or smaller role), but his work on “Love and Other Catastrophes” (dir. Emma-Kate Croghan, 1996) remains his best known and most acclaimed.

Noah Taylor had also played main character Jimmy in Efthymiou’s short film “Road to Alice”, where he and Huge Weaving had created the precursors of their later characters in “True Love and Chaos”.

SYNOPSIS

Four very different characters are thrown into a car and sent on a journey across the Nullarbor. They all search for their very own version of true love – but have to go through a very chaotic phase in their lives first, and not all of them make it.

Mimi (Miranda Otto) is on her way to make peace with her mother in Perth. She is pregnant, but does not yet reveal this to her boyfriend Hanif (Naveen Andrews), who only comes with her because he and his friend Dean (Noah Taylor) had just robbed Dean’s brother Jerry (Ben Mendelsohn) – and Jerry will keep hunting them to the last moments. On the road they pick up aging hippie (and cover band singer) Morris (Hugo Weaving), who turns out to be more than just a bullshit artist on a trip of self-destruction.

CRITICAL UPTAKE

“An Australian grunge road-movie. I feel like I've seen this before. The end was a bit gruesome.“
This possibly shortest review ever nevertheless sums up other critics’ opinions pretty well: Whereas some denounce “True Love and Chaos” as a pathetic attempt to imitate American films – one reviewer called it a “jejune attempt to be coolly bad and existentially hip” – and some on the other end of the scale describe it as “an engaging, beautifully written, expertly directed film about the delicacies and foibles of human relationships”, most reviewers accepted it as an overall average, but nice little film with some unusual characters portrayed by a remarkable cast.
Although some critics can not help feeling to have “seen this before”, thereby pointing to a too heavy lean on the usual characteristics of a road movie, most ascribe a very distinct and different, maybe “Australian”, touch to it.  Especially the “grungy” parts are often mentioned, giving Hugo Weaving credit for his singing talent and noting the self-contradictory, sometimes even self-destructive tone within all the major characters.
As it is a most of the time “very human” film (although some of the reviewers disagree on the actual meaning of the term “human”…), many critics were put off by the deaths in the end. Although this is a rather common part of the structure of road movies, it feels (for some) tacked on to an already fully developed ending in form of the sudden revelation of Morris’ “true” identity.
Overall, most reviews have been well-meaning, but not enthusiastic. Particular credit is mostly given to the performances of the cast (strangely even to Kimberley Davies as the “blonde bimbo”) and to the mournful soundtrack, which obviously suggests a rather mediocre narrative and style of narration. As “True Love and Chaos” has also failed to attract a notable cult following, it seems to be on the way to be all forgotten very soon.

“ROAD TO LOVE”

Efthymiou’s “True Love and Chaos” has to be set into context with its precursor, “Road to Alice”.

“In many ways this is a feature version of that film [“Road to Alice”, M.M.] – the film he DIDN'T get to make when he was at film school.” This is how Hugo Weaving describes “True Love and Chaos”. Hugo Weaving and Noah Taylor had been in Efthymiou’s graduation film, which already encompassed many of the basic ideas that came to be fully developed later on in “True Love and Chaos”, and let evolve its main figures into the characters we see in the “full version”. The characters Dean and Morris had been created for Taylor and Weaving, whereas Efthymiou saw more than 100 actors before he could decide on Miranda Otto for his Mimi.

So in many ways both the additional characters and the actors behind them had to integrate themselves into a basic structure that had been set up several years earlier by Efthymiou, Weaving and Taylor. This was obviously very much simplified by Efthymious approach to the creation of dialogue: most of it was made up along the way, enabling the actors to work from their own experiences and forming their ideas in their own words – which in turn resulted in the so often appraised performance of the cast.

The storyline of “Road to Alice” and “True Love and Chaos” however follow very strictly the characteristic traits of the genre. Whereas the first movie more or less plays with the conventions of a road movie, the second one seems to be almost obsessed to fulfil them all. Efthymiou had watched “every road movie he could get hands on” before embarking on his projects – and had (funnily enough) found the biggest influence on him in “The Wizard of Oz”. Not without reason he quotes from it at the beginning of “True Love and Chaos”, the lines about “Someplace where there isn’t any trouble”, “not a place you can get to by a boat or a train” are central to his film.

“True Love and Chaos”, as most participants in the genre “road movie”, is not only about a purely physical journey. It is a journey of the self, a journey from what-has-been and who-has-been through doubt and chaos towards a change, towards a possibility of difference.

Dean, as well as Jimmy, the main character in “Road to Alice”, tries to escape from his pursuers by taking to the road. Dean’s drug addiction haunts him – and hunts him in the form of his “New Age Psycho brother” Jerry. He could not get Ariel, but still believes in the idea of romance, as we see in his reading. He basically only wants to be free of his worries, but this freedom comes to him in the end only with the highest price.

Morris on the other hand has probably enjoyed too much freedom – he can not really care about the people around him anymore. He had run away from the responsibility of being a father and subsequently tried to convince himself and the world that his irresponsibility is in fact the freedom of the rock singer and the bullshit artist. He drowns himself not only in alcohol, but also in the music of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Velvet Underground, tries to escape his pathetic existence as a cover band singer by telling himself he had already seen too much of this world to be realistic about it. Morris is on a self-destructive journey – but in the end this also leads to a step-by-step destruction of his character as a bullshit-artist and to the construction of a better, a more “truthful” self. He loses his girl, his band and even his belongings, but he also finds something. Some part of his self drags him back to Perth, back to the mother of his daughter and therefore also back to the responsibility of being a father.
Mimi had never known her father – and when she tried to find out more about him, the following fight with her mother had taken away the then only remaining part of the family unit as well. Now that she is herself on the way to become a mother, and maybe even on the way to form a family, she tries to get back to her own mother, tries to make peace with her. What she wants is “a nice life and to be happy”, seemingly not much compared to her boyfriend’s wish for “money, money, money and eternal good luck”, but apparently not at all easy to get with a boyfriend who does not want to be burdened with a family and the new and strange attraction to the singer who seems to be a soul mate of hers.
Hanif loves his girlfriend – but he also loves the freedom of a relationship that is not burdened with any commitments. He lies to Mimi about his reasons for coming with her and is torn between what he should do for her and what he should do for his friend Dean (and his own pocket) – no wonder he is in an almost never-ending bad mood, especially when Morris comes along and catches Mimi’s attention so easily. Nevertheless, Mimi’s “real” dream in the movie, the dream about a baby in the back seat of a car with the loving parents in front, driving towards a white light where “everything is alright” actually becomes reality in the end – with their own baby in the back seat. (And once again the theme of freedom appears in this last scene: “to be free” are the last words we hear of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire”)

As could be seen from this little elaboration on each main characters’ journey (as well as Efthymiou’s journey from “Road to Alice” to “True Love and Chaos”), the film follows all the formal features of a road movie: The storyline is triggered and sustained by the break-up of a family unit and by the slow construction of a new one. Nevertheless, the idea of “freedom” plays an important role for some of the characters, and for some the flight to freedom ends in death. The unusual group of four has to somehow build up a relationship between them in the car – the development of these relationships is even emphasized by their actual positions in the car – but they are all threatened by a haunting and hunting force behind them in the form of Jerry. The car as their means to physically embark on their journey as well as the changing or unchanging landscape as a measurement for their progress are also central for a road movie.

SONGLINES

Probably no other genre is so much defined by its mise-en-scene as the road movie. As Australia offers so much empty space, it is almost “made” for this type of film, the “Australianness” of such movies emerges already from the setting. Australia is however not a place that can be left by road – there can never be a complete escape from whatever the characters are fleeing from or whatever they are trying to leave behind (unless they end up finding the “ultimate freedom”). But as this diminishes the importance of the pure physical journey, it adds to the weight of the spiritual one – and this takes us to another Australian speciality:
Although the term “songlines” might be controversial in the absence of any aboriginal Australian themes in “True Love and Chaos”, it is nevertheless a term that describes the most central feature of a road movie, the spiritual journey along a physical path. Especially in a movie with such a prominent soundtrack (and above all in a movie with such a low budget), the linking of the concept of “Songlines” and the actual “lines of the songs” might prove enlightening. I will only suggest the possibilities of such an approach here, as this would probably go beyond the scope of this small critical review.
Morris’ attraction not only to the songs of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, but also to their lifestyles and views of the world is contrasted by and possibly complemented with Mimi’s liking for Blondie’s songs. Not only do these two characters primarily connect through their music and musical talents, they also often use it as a means to find a place for themselves in the world around them.
One example for Hugo Weaving’s character may be enough here to illuminate what I am trying to suggest:
In Leonard Cohen’s “So long Marianne” Morris finds himself as “some kind of gypsy boy” (and he is a kind of gypsy boy, always trying to move on – his excuse for fleeing from responsibility) with the only option “to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.” He then goes on to sing about a life that has “been saved by Rock’n’Roll” (Velvet Underground, “Rock & Roll”) and repeats that “it was alright”, before finally falling into the arms of the audience after singing exactly about that: “We talk about it all night long – we define our moral ground – but when I fall into your arms – everything…” (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “The Ship Song”. Weaving even changed the lyrics here, from “crawl into your arms” to “fall into your arms”).
This is only one of the possible examples, but it should suffice to point out that not only has Morris’ role been created for Weaving, but also that the soundtrack has been explicitly chosen to not only to support a certain mood, but to complement and even narrate the story of the character.
And as we hear in Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”: “Love is so confusing there’s no peace of mind” – True Love is Chaos.

By Martin Modlinger. April 2005. Contact (with good reason only, please): martin.modlinger (at) web.de