Urban Cinefile
"To me, cinema is fantasy and the volume has been turned up "  -director Aleksi Vellis
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday October 3, 2019 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Psychiatrist Dr Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) has written a book about the murder of her 11 year-old daughter Eleanor. Valerie's clients include Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) who suspects her husband Leon Zat (Anthony La Paglia), a homicide detective, of being unfaithful. Another client, Patrick Phelan, (Peter Phelps) has revealed details of an affair he is conducting with a married man - Valerie suspects it is her husband John Knox (Geoffrey Rush). When Valerie goes missing, Jane O'May (Rachel Blake), with whom Leon has been sleeping, suspects her next door neighbour Nik D'Amato (Vince Colosimo) and calls police. Leon is assigned the case and in the process discovers a web of connections and secrets in Valerie's files. 

Reviewed by Andrew L. Urban:
Warmly received at its world premiere (Opening Film, Sydney Film Festival, June 8, 2001), Lantana is a film for film lovers, an engaging character study whose subjects are as varied as they are self-contradictory. Those elements, coupled with its daily dramas explored under psychiatry, are reminiscent of Woody Allen’s fondness for the bizarre appearing out of nowhere. But unlike Allen, writer Andrew Bovell is informed by Australian idiosyncrasies, as the title implies. (Lantana is an Australian bush, a weed that infests the suburbs and sprouts toy-coloured flowers.) Producer Jan Chapman referred to the film at the premiere as being primarily an exploration of men and their feelings (or what’s visible of them) but that may be a view from the inside of the creative filmmaking process. From the audience’s point of view, the film is more subtle and more complex than she implies. Indeed, the men and the women in the film claim equal portions of our attention and our sympathies. 

Honest, moving, vulnerable performances from the entire cast makes Lantana a genuine movie pleasure, showing us the frailty of human nature as well as its resilience. They draw us in and well observed writing keeps us there. Ray Lawrence’s direction is both economical and focused; with an almost Jesuit-like discipline, he unravels his story through the structure of character revelation, never letting us get ahead of him. This tension serves the film well for most of its running time, bar a few plods in the middle, and makes the plot and character revelations reverberate with meaning. But there are no clichés, no pat endings and no predictability. Life does go on, no matter what, but it is never the same as before. Before what? Before everything.

Now if you also like the film as much as I do, you’ve got a treat in store on the DVD. Produced by Australia’s Oasis DVD production house, the package comes together well both in technical terms – which matters with a film as nuanced as this – and in creative terms. Bright, wonderful image and a clean, crisp yet full sound. 

I only have one or two little gripes: as much as I really like Paul Kelly’s improvised score, having it play under the entire length of this doco is a little too much. The other flaw is in the menu & navigation: on the design side, the lantana flower as the navigation symbol comes across like a design suitable for children and fights the film’s mood. On the navigation side, the option settings (eg commentary on/off) do not have an easy, instinctive functionality and become frustrating.

The 40 minute Nature of Lantana feature stands out as a great example of how to produce a feature for DVD. It complements the viewer’s intelliogence and doesn’t dash about in 12 second cuts. Better still, it allows the interview subjects (cast and crew) to speak long enough to give a really well rounded backdrop to the film’s themes and characters. 

It avoids the odious bad habit of many imported DVD features that pile overlays of the film into the features. 

As for the audio commentary by director Ray Lawrence, writer Andrew Bovell, producer Jan Chapman, I had to laugh from the beginning, when Jan Chapman instinctively plays producer, adding little notes to ensure we are fully briefed. There is a short piece, for example, when Ray Lawrence talks about the opening sex scene and say ‘There’s Jane” with Jan Chapman adding “played by Rachel Blake”. Then Ray says “and there’s Ray”, Chapman adds “playing Leon”. 

The threesome provides a multifaceted commentary track providing not merely comment but rationale and intent, which makes it so much richer. 

Footnote: the special features list includes original soundtrack and screenplay, but these are simply information pages about those elements; don’t expect to play the soundtrack (separately) or read the screenplay on this DVD.

Published October 17, 2002

Email this article



CAST: Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Vince Colosimo

DIRECTOR: Ray Lawrence

RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 x 9 enhanced;

SPECIAL FEATURES: The nature of Lantana; audio commentary by director Ray Lawrence, writer Andrew Bovell, producer Jan Chapman; trailers; biographies; photo gallery; websites; the song Te Busco by Celia Cruz

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: August 12, 2002

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2019