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Bliss (1985)
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by John Rice

"A comically dark search for identity"
5 stars

Most movie fans have a handful of virtually unknown titles they cherish as personal favorites. Little gems they can think of as their own since virtually nobody else has seen, or even heard of them. The 1985 Australian film Bliss, from director Ray Lawrence (Lantana), falls into that category for me. While it caused something of a spectacle on its original release and won several major Australian Film Institute awards, in the 20 years since, it has fallen off into virtual obscurity. Until late 2005 it had never been released on DVD anywhere in the world, until Roadshow Entertainment finally released a 2 disc Special Edition in Australia in September. Finally, not only is this wonderfully quirky film available for home viewing, the original 129 minute version, essentially unseen outside the Cannes film festival, is available for the first time.

Harry Joy (Barry Otto) is an amiable and fairly successful advertising executive who possesses a particular skill for telling engrossing stories. He has a happy marriage to wife Bettina (Lynette Curran), his daughter Lucy (Gia Carides) is studying to be a social worker and his son David (Miles Buchanan) is going to be a doctor. The only problem is, Harry is about to die. During the four minutes of Harry's death he gets an understanding of life he had never imagined and once revived, he begins to believe he has not actually survived, but has died and gone to Hell. Bettina is now having a brazen affair with his business partner, David is a drug dealer and Lucy is exchanging sexual favors for cocaine. Harry decides it is time to make some changes and face reality and the "flower child" Honey Barbara (Helen Jones) he meets while on a weekend bender seems to be just the person to help get him there.

Bliss is adapted for the screen by Lawrence and the source book's author Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda) in what is one of the better novel to screen adaptations. The quirky, Vonnegut style sense of humor in the source carries through quite well, while being a bit tempered, which in this case is a good thing. Where the novel borders on being childish at times, the film is more successful at maintaining its sense of humor without taking it quite as far.

Despite it's silly exterior, this is a meaningful and rather profound story about finding purpose and satisfaction in life and how difficult they are to achieve. Like the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, they are simply coated with a layer of acerbic wit and dark, brutal honesty. Harry finds it fairly easy to determine the course he should follow, but significantly more difficult to actually continue on that course as long as it takes. As with real life, he is constantly challenged by flashy, immediate, and more socially demanded actions. The road is more than a bit bumpy and he is forced to negotiate some rather outrageous obstacles in his quest for happiness. His repeated mistakes are not fixed with simple, quick solutions as so many movies prefer, but often take years to rectify. Along the way, it is easy to become surprisingly attached to this oddball and subconsciously cheer for him to succeed. It is a surprisingly powerful film, the full impact of which doesn't completely hit until the final scene, with a wonderfully poetic monologue.

Easily the greatest pleasure of the Australian 2 disc Special Edition is the inclusion of the original 129 minute version. Previous to this, most if not all versions released anywhere on video were an edited 108 minute version, which was considerably choppier in narrative and didn't fully expand on some of the more subtle elements. While the longer version still has its flaws, it is a significant improvement over the edited one and essentially renders the 108 minute version unnecessary and undesirable, except as an example of how important editing is to effective filmmaking. Thie review originally appeared on Slacker-Reviews.com.

This is one of those special movies whose reach exceeds its grasp and is well worth the extra effort required to be seen.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1512&reviewer=373
originally posted: 05/16/06 03:44:24
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User Comments

1/26/11 ChrisPM Bliss is Vonnegut if he believed in an afterlife. 4 stars
9/13/10 Mark When is this going to be available on DVD (and preferably Blu Ray) in NA? 5 stars
7/30/10 perky astounding film!...i thought it was just me! finally have the region 4 dvd. 5 stars
5/19/10 Jillius It is on my list of favorite films 5 stars
2/21/10 misterscience One of my favorite films 5 stars
4/01/08 Mark Great film -- saw it in the 80s and loved it 5 stars
9/08/07 myles the third greatest film ever made 5 stars
7/26/07 Al H Awesome film. Saw it years ago and still remember it to the point where I had to track it d 5 stars
6/20/04 milehigh Proves reality IS Hell. 5 stars
2/20/01 Rocket Boy Not bad...I love Lee. 4 stars
6/11/99 Biscus An interesting psychological look into sex 4 stars
5/01/99 Whitney Sucked 1 stars
1/26/99 {{{OZ}}} An extremely good movie missed by most. Worth hunting down. 5 stars
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  19-Sep-1985 (R)


  19-Sep-1985 (M)

Directed by
  Ray Lawrence

Written by
  Ray Lawrence
  Peter Carey

  Barry Otto
  Helen Jones
  John Doyle
  Gia Carides
  Miles Buchanan
  Bryan Marshall

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