what else goes missing in a disappearance

kirsten krauth: kieran darcy-smith’s wish you were here

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

SHIFTING BETWEEN THE MEAN STREETS OF CAMBODIAN BEACH SHANTY TOWN SIHANOUKVILLE AND THE LEAFY EASTERN SUBURBS OF SYDNEY, WISH YOU WERE HERE IS A STYLISH THRILLER PRODUCED BY THE BLUE TONGUE FILMS TEAM (WHICH INCLUDES NASH AND JOEL EDGERTON) AND WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY KEIRAN DARCY-SMITH, WHOSE 1998 SHORT FILM BLOODLOCK WAS NOMINATED FOR AN AFI AWARD.

Dave (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Alice (Felicity Price in an elegantly measured performance) visit Cambodia with her sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr). After a wild night dancing under the moon and taking e’s, Jeremy disappears from the beach. As the days unfold, he fails to return. He’s listed as a missing person; it turns out none of the others really knew him. When the three return to Sydney, the film’s delicate structure gradually reveals the secrets they have been hiding from one another since that night.

Darcy-Smith and Felicity Price are a husband and wife team—and also the film’s screenwriters—and the writing and performances are particularly strong in the scenes where the couple’s family life (they have two small children) gradually unravels. The conversations around the dinner table capture the random, humorous, often surprising nature of dialogue with toddlers. And the conflict that erupts is convincing: a pregnant Alice drinks a bottle of wine as Dave loses his temper, accusing her of trying to kill their baby. The children watch as the couple’s relationship slowly disintegrates under the strain of Jeremy’s disappearance and Dave’s increasing paranoia.

What’s curious about the film is that there’s no great sense of loss at Jeremy’s disappearance—or even a real feeling that he’s missing; the tension doesn’t quite build from the beginning. Perhaps this is because the film so quickly shifts location from Cambodia to Sydney. We’re not there for those long days when minutes becomes hours; when time slows the way it does when you’re waiting for someone who doesn’t arrive, who never returns. Even the scenes with Jeremy’s parents, struggling to accommodate the news that he’s gone, are stilted—perhaps reflecting that all the characters in the end remain strangers to one another, while Jeremy can only be a mysterious figure, unknowable, untraceable.

Watching Edgerton in the central role I’m reminded of his similarly edgy performance in The Waiting City (director Claire McCarthy, 2009), an Australian film where the sense of waiting (in a foreign place, India) is palpable. In both films, there also seems to be another story waiting in the wings (from an Indian or Cambodian perspective) that’s just out of reach, tantalising: here, it’s the tale of the Vietnamese mafia, the brothel owner who parades a small girl for the Australian men who drink at his bar.

I’ve walked along the Sihanoukville beach at night, skinnydipping in the shadows. The shanty bars right on the ocean’s fringe give a wild-west frontier feel to the place. I caught a tuk-tuk ride at 3am back to my hotel, a friendly local only too happy to drop me off for a few American dollars. Even then I got the feeling that if you wanted to disappear, this would be the place to do it.

Wish You Were Here, director Kieran Darcy-Smith, writers Kieran Darcy-Smith, Felicity Price, producer Angie Felder, cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin, editor Jason Ballantine, production design Alex Holmes, costumes Joanna Park, music Tim Rogers; distribution Hopscotch Films, release April 25

RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 20

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

10 April 2012