NZFF: Wish You Were Here
Two young Australian couples take off to the southern beaches of Cambodia for a week free of the incumbrances of real life, and the usual line-up of sea, sand and partying that said freedom permits.
The extended opening credits of the film economically show the four having a whale of a time; shopping in markets, tasting curious delicacies, laughing, sun-bronzed and happy. Then, as the film starts for real, the tone changes abruptly - because only three of them come home.
Alice and Dave thought they were having one last hurrah before the arrival of their third child; Alice's sister Steph had encouraged them to travel with her and new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr), a businessman of dubious enterprise who then disappears after a boozy night out.
Reluctant to involve the police, unable to open up to friends, life gets claustrophobic and paranoid. Secrets and lies unfold that threaten to destroy their happy family as the audience is drip-fed answers until all must be revealed.
The blend of heartfelt emotional drama with subtle performances is reminiscent of the excellent Lantana, another Australian missing persons drama. Co-writer Felicity Price is compelling as Alice, caught between her husband, her sister and maternal obligation, opposite a tortured Joel Edgerton (one of the all-round superlative cast of Animal Kingdom).
Sydney serves as a benevolent backdrop to the tension that ratchets up with every scene. This is a beautifully shot, perfectly pitched first feature from Kieran Darcy-Smith, and one looks forward to his next creation.
* Sarah Watt is the Sunday Star Times film reviewer. Read her blog here.