Standard Operating Procedure

UNFINISHED SKY. Starring William McInnes, Monic Hendrickx and David Field. Directed by Peter Duncan
Running Time: 91 mins
Rated: Rated M (moderate themes, violence and coarse language)

This is an Australian movie that has been a firm audience favourite on the Festival circuit, wherever it has been shown. Filmed on location at an old homestead (Wyambin) in Beaudesert, Queensland, the movie tells the story of a reclusive outback farmer, John Woldring (William McInnes who acted in "Look Both Ways') who hesitantly befriends Tahmeena, an illegal Afghan refugee (sensitively played by Monic Hendrickx).

Tahmeena has fled from being held captive in a brothel and finds herself on the road by John's farm and is desperate for help. Intelligently written for the screen by the film's Director, Peter Duncan, and based on a screenplay by Kees van der Hulst, the film is no ordinary version of a run-of-the-mill outback romance. This film is a re-make of a Dutch movie called "The Polish Bride' in which Monic Hendrickx also starred, and it is translated here into an Australian setting to emphasize its universal themes. Plot and setting don't exactly fit and the ending disappoints a little, but psychological and emotional overtones abound and they bring to the film considerable complexity and impact. It is very well acted and directed, and the photography of Robert Humphreys (who gave us "Suburban Mayhem') is excellent. This is a political-romantic story of a growing love between two injured people. John Woldring is injured by his own isolation and consuming grief over the death of his wife; and Tahmeena is injured by the hurt others have done to her.The mutual hesitancy of both of them is slowly replaced by trust and love.

The Australian landscape provides excellent contrast with the human drama that unfolds. John is emotionally isolated from the community by his own choice; and Tahmeena, is struggling to regain trust after her abuse; and she has virtually no English to cope. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is that Tahmeena's words in her own language are never sub-titled. The audience and the principal characters have to find in common the ways to understand what is really happening; and meaning comes through visual and emotional cues that ultimately reflect very fine direction by Peter Duncan (who gave us "Children of the Revolution') and quality acting by McInnes and Hendrickx. Trust rescues both of them for different reasons. It comes for Tahmeena from the help and support she needs and which John provides. It comes for John by the understanding and emotional support that Tahmeena senses he wants. The film has a thriller ending involving a shoot-out with some of the town's corrupt inhabitants, but throughout the movie there is considerable tension as the story-line builds up. However, it is the human drama that counts in the end, and not the political or dramatic one. Given Tahmeena's past abuse one might expect that strength flows from John to her, but as the film develops we come to understand John's spiritual isolation. Growing trust comes from strength flowing from each to the other. Both are hiding secrets and both bring courage to each other. The movie is about finding the courage to trust and love again, and this is a genuinely uplifting message.

The source of the film's title is a giant jigsaw puzzle of a sky. The puzzle is meant to be an impossible one to finish and when it looks to be almost completed, John and Tahmeena pull it apart, perhaps to reflect their new-found relationship. In this and other ways, the puzzle provides a highly symbolic image that works well for the Director in this unusual and involving film.

Palace Out June 19

Peter W. Sheehan. Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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