Look Both Ways

Reviewed By U.J. Lessing
Posted 09/13/06 16:44:58

"Death and Depression Down Under"
5 stars (Awesome)

Why can’t every filmmaker have a debut like this? First-time feature film director, Sarah Watt has a natural flair for cinematic imagery and uses it to tackle two very difficult topics: death and introspection. Most films about shell-shocked characters coming to grips with their own mortality are either excruciating or forcefully comical. (I’m guessing that studio execs read the plot summary and found this film unmarketable, but whatever the reason, “Look Both Ways” didn’t get the full release in the States that it richly deserved.) Not so with this mini-masterpiece. “Look Both Ways” cleverly celebrates its characters, while unflinchingly challenging them.

The film takes us to Adelaide, a sprawling city in Southern Australia. Trains and trams cut through its landscape, and its buildings bake in the heat. A news story grips the city’s population: a train has jumped its tracks in a tunnel. Many are dead and missing. It’s Friday, and tragedy is defining the weekend.

Artist, Meryl (Justine Clarke) lives in the heart of the city. Fueled by the accident and the unexpected death of her father weeks earlier, she imagines death and potential accidents all around. On her way home and in the midst of many fantasized thoughts of her own demise (outstandingly animated by the director herself), Meryl witnesses a real tragedy, a man hit by a train.

The accident draws together a myriad of characters, each motivated by an event that puts his or her future in question. Each of them spends the weekend dispersing across Adelaide like ripples across a pond. We quickly realize that one of the wanderers, Nick (William McInnes), is destined to become Meryl’s soul mate. A rugged and healthy man, Nick is a news photographer who carries a dreadful burden of his own.

Watt’s ability to visually capture the way people think when they are overcome by anxiety is exceptional. Characters’ thoughts and ideas rip through the film and drive the narrative home. Her masterful techniques include animation, collage, montage and jump cuts.

But the true energy in the film comes from its richly developed characters. The key to an excellent drama lies in whether or not an audience can see their own qualities mirrored in the characters. In “Look Both Ways” every single character expresses emotions that feel subtly familiar to the viewer.

It is to this film’s credit that it never turns into a movie about philosophy but instead explores characters trying to overcome fear of the future. The result is a film that’s as comforting as it is dramatic.

Don’t be put off by the subject matter. “Look Both Ways” is too important to miss.

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