Australian film director Peter Weir has captured our attention lately, not with a new film, but with some old ones. Born in Sydney in 1944, he attended school for art and law before moving on to film, at the University of Sydney. He made several films for the Commonwealth Film Unit before branching off on his own.
His first feature-length film was The Cars That Ate Paris, in 1975, followed by Picnic At Hanging Rock. In 1977 he made The Last Wave, starring Richard Chamberlain. His next film brought international attention to Mel Gibson, in 1977's Gallipoli. His most notable American films were Witness, Dead Poet's Society, The Truman Show, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
The Last Wave is the first Weir movie I saw. This suspenseful tale follows an Australian lawyer who takes the case of a group of Aborigines, accused of killing a member of their group. Chamberlain plays the lawyer, who suspects the men he is representing are actually tribal Aborigines, who are believed not to live in the city. I was on the edge of my seat as I watched Chamberlain discover the secrets of this ritualistic group of tribal people. Psychedelic dream sequences, apocalyptic visions, and spooky music all set the mood for this thrilling drama.
The other Weir film I fell in love with is Picnic at Hanging Rock. Hanging Rock was adapted from Joan Lindsay's novel of the same name. On Valentine's Day in 1900, a group of schoolgirls traveled to Hanging Rock, a geological formation in Victoria. Mysteriously, every one's watch stops at noon, and an odd aura surrounds the area. Three of the most popular and beautiful girls, followed by their dumpy and desperate classmate, decide to explore the rock, though they have been instructed not to do so. Suddenly, Miranda, the leader, seems to fall into a hypnotized daze, and the girls wander up the rock. They pass out, wake up, remove their shoes and stockings, and wander on. Edith, the dumpy one, can't go any further, and screams for help. The three other girls are missing, without a trace. As the film progresses, we follow Michael, a young Englishman visiting the area, who becomes obsessed with finding the girls. Back at the school, hysteria ensues, and further tragedy strikes. Quiet diffusion, gentle Victorian voices, and the mysterious ambiance of Gheorghe Zamfir's pan flute add to the haunting tension of the story.