JOHN DUIGAN'S Careless Love starts haltingly and then falls to increasingly lurid pieces, unable to support a theme, let alone a cohesive story. Linh (Nammi Le), a Sydney University student working as a prostitute, visits various clients with a matter-of-fact driver, Dion (David Field), and a fellow escort, Mint (Ivy Mak). The resulting film proves to be a failure: inert, irritating and ultimately exploitative.
It's unfortunate to see a filmmaker who once provided a strong voice within Australian cinema reduced to making such shallow, ropy work. Twenty-five years ago, Duigan made one of the great local movies, the coming-of-age tale The Year My Voice Broke, and even eight years ago he made an interesting - if flawed - period melodrama with Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz, named Head in the Clouds, but this latest picture verges on the diabolical.
|Screen Writer||John Duigan|
|Actors||Nammi Le, Peter O'Brien, David Field, Andrew Hazzard|
|OFLC rating||MA 15+|
Linh is a character who never remotely feels plausible. Studying social anthropology and the daughter of Vietnamese boat people, she works in the sex trade to earn enough to cover the family mortgage after her father's retrenchment. Linh is blankly noble, a construct who impresses academically but has no connection to the theories she recites.
The story is interested in how she tries to compartmentalise her work alongside a sketchily drawn romance with earnest fellow student Jack (Andrew Hazzard), but there's no sense of friction or personal consequence. She's archly watchful with her clients - there's little sense of danger to her bookings - and girlishly compliant with her boyfriend, and you might initially wonder which side of her is an act until you realise that Le, in her first significant role, is disastrously out of her depth.
Duigan's writing gives little to the cast but veterans such as Field and Peter O'Brien, as the caring American client Luke, fill in the gaps. Duigan, who once had a keen sense of the link between desire and pleasure, barely shows Linh having sex, so there's nothing communicated physically about her choices. Instead, her body, frequently in underwear, is used as the director's canvas, complete with one shabbily unnecessary nude scene.
Other ideas, such as Luke's nefarious activities, are heaped on to the plot but add virtually nothing as raw sentiment and sheer outlandishness take hold. Careless Love leaves you wincing at its numerous shortcomings.
Rated MA, 103 minutes, opens Thursday
Stars: Nammi Le, Peter O'Brien, David Field, Andrew Hazzard