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Short Takes on Film
Ben Nyce | Via Latina


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In 1977 Robyn Davidson trekked 1700 miles across the Australian desert. Her saga was highlighted in National Geographic and led to her best-selling book “Tracks.” Several attempts were made to turn the book into a movie but all failed (despite the interest of Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman). Finally we have the movie directed by John Curran and starring the relatively unknown Mia Wasikowska. It’s a splendid recounting of a torturous journey under the harshest conditions. Davidson learned to train camels for her trek; they carried her loads, though she never rode them. These patient beasts could endure the burning sun and wind better than she. At times she seems to seek such harshness, exposing her bare blistering flesh to the sun. Is she punishing herself, seeing how much she can stand? Her motivation is unclear. Perhaps her mother’s suicide is a factor, her father’s disappearance on a long trek. She’s casting off the complications of human relationships attempting to get close to the elemental, the basics. She resents the appearance of Rick, the National Geographic photographer who wants to chronicle her journey, as well as the tourists who want to see “the camel lady.”
The landscape punishes and revives her. The sweeping camera captures the shadeless beauty of the desert, its deep ochres, browns, vermilions. It’s here that the meditative character of the film emerges. Our eyes, like Robyn’s, are drawn upward, outward, away from petty concerns. She’s helped by the appearance of Mr. Eddy, an aboriginal who guides her through the sacred lands she would be unable to see without him. A product of an ancient culture, he’s a spiritual guide to her. When she finally reaches the ocean she has accomplished an inner journey as well as an outer one.


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For home viewing see “Summer Hours,” the exquisite depiction of the breaking up of a family patrimony, directed by Olivier Assayas and starring Juliet Binoche and Charles Berling. Helen has attempted to preserve the collection of her artist uncle but she’s under no illusion that her children will wish to do so. They assemble after her death to decide what to do with such beautiful and valuable items. A life’s effort is thus dispersed as modern life dissolves the old order.
Nyce taught literature and film at USD. He authored “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorcese Up Close


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