The Love of Lionel's Life aka Open Cut
Love of Lionel's Life (John Ruane, 2000) telemovie; wr. Tony Cavanaugh, Des Power, prod. Simone North, Tony Cavanaugh Production Company, Liberty Films International, Beyond Distribution, Simone North, Network Ten; Matt Day (Lionel), Nadine Garner (Lena), Alex Dimitriades (Steve), Steven Vidler (Robbie), Graeme Blundell (Stan), Carol Burns (Mavis); Lionel from outback Gundeeba in Qld searches beyond his cool life for love; he finds a girl in an international video magazine, they meet and romance blossoms, but, when she moves to Gundeeba, jealous and violent elements bring shame on the town
John Flaus, who plays the lead role of Doug [in Queensland, 1976], always tells me it's one of Australia's first social realist films. I think there is a truth to that because we were trying to capture the way people spoke or the way those particular characters spoke, No one said what they really meant. We were trying to get some kind of subtext to the dialogue. I think we did.
John Ruane, talking to Peter Malone, as published in his Myth and Meaning: Australia Film Directors in Their Own Words, Currency, 2001: 98.
The description John Ruane gives of his 1976 film I think also applies to his 2011 telemovie, at least in part. The exposition begins with Lionel and Lena exchanging videotapes, but the point of view is Lionel's and includes the mine, the small town of Gundeeba (pop. 200, with only seven women), and especially Steve and Robbie, Lionel's best mates. It only takes five minutes of running time before the nature of 'mateship' is being explored and defined, mainly by Steve, for whom it means a mate is someone to whom you tell everything — including that you are wooing a sheila. So the social realist part of the films, the first act if you will, deals in an apparently light-hearted way with a country guy going to the Brisbane and getting a city girl to come with him to the outback (explicitly).
The key change has to occur in Steve's character, and there is just the one key scene which tries to show this. Steve comes to the clinic where Lena is working as a nurse (tho not qualified, another small plot point I prolly have time to discuss). He has one line ('You think you know everything, don't you?') but for most of it he simply stares balefully at the girl. Personally, I thought it would have helped for Dimitriades's character to have had a European name like Nick, say, because he's so obviously not Anglo-Saxon, and it might have added a bit more credibility to what happens next. Which is that only a few minutes later in screen time Lena is found unconscious, having been sexually and otherwise assaulted. So it's obvious who the perpetrator is.
The next couple of major events are even less plausible, but I hope you might see the film so I won't tell the rest of the story. Suffice it to say that the tone of the second act is menacing while that of the third is conventionally active with a fight and a slightly surprising conclusion.
I'm assuming at this point that no-one will have read this far (if anyone even started) so I'll now embark on one of my far-fetched 'structuralist' analyses in the privacy of the internet. The word 'melodrama' has been used in relation to this film, and when I hear that word I reach for my 'family' to place in front of it, as I find the family melodrama to be the most meaningful subset of the vast range of referents of the noun. I have suggested in another place that 'the family melodrama has what it sees as a positive project [: ...] the maintenance of the family, or of some sort of family, or of anything like a family.'
Before the arrival of Lena, there is an equilibrium in the trilateral relationship of Steve, the hard, distant paternal figure, Lionel, who (admittedly later) reveals his maternal side in the way he cares and cooks for Lena, and Robbie, brilliantly played by Steven Vidler as a rather childish man who fails to understand the depth of Steve's anger and the danger is poses for him, tho it's obvious to the audience. (Vidler's body of work shows an extraordinary range. If he has a 'type' he's definitely playing against it. Look at the film he did immediately before this one, Dogwatch, 1999 — and I wish you would look, because hardly anyone else has! — where he played a tough ship's captain. I think these are among his best work.) So — and I know you'll have difficulty accepting this idea — there's something like a family here, with these three men. And it's threatened by the arrival of Lena.
I know there are several other ways of explaining Steve's huge over-reaction, 'latent homosexuality' among them. But I like this one, because it draws attention to the two plot points I've mentioned, Lionel's surprising but quite believable domesticity, and Robbie's somewhat infantile character.
I could go on with family analysis (but psychoanalytic rather than structuralist) to mention the vestiges of the Oedipus complex that may be perceived in this film. Transforming Lionel from 'mother' to 'son' for the purpose (well, this is a work of art we're considering: like Walt Whitlam it contains multitudes, including such transformations), in this light, it's arguable that Lionel kills the father so that he can sleep with Lena, who has now become the mother, in this new variation of family.
End of rave. But I can't leave this film without mentioning the subplot, if that's the word, of the discovery of an old film in the projection room of the old cinema (the Majestic) that Steve wants to restore. The guys find the spools and proceed to roll one down the street a little way and then pick up random bits of film — while I'm mentally screaming at them to put it back on the spool, carefully! Because the fiction is that they've discovered a complete print of Ken G. Hall's last film Smithy (1946). (Fortunately there is a real copy safely held by the NFSA, part of which is what is screened at the Majestic. But just you try to buy a copy off them!)
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