Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In My Father's Den

2004, New Zealand/UK, directed by Brad McGann

Brad McGann's only feature film - he died in 2007 - is a compelling exploration of the consequences that follow from the return of a prodigal son, Paul Prior (Matthew Macfadyen), to his small hometown in New Zealand. The film is an adaptation of Maurice Gee's 1972 novel, though McGann, who also wrote the screenplay, changes Gee's template considerably, moving the action from Auckland to a lightly-populated area of the South Island, bringing things up to the present day, and constructing something of a mystery/thriller by holding back key information that Gee reveals as early as his first page.

McGann releases details sparingly, constructing his film as a kind of puzzle assembled from pieces of the past and present, with Prior's attempts to forget his youth - by running away to London - undone by his decision to return home. The film is extremely successful in evoking both the contemporary period and Paul's younger days; McGann has an acute sense of the differing emotions of youth, and captures the mixture of regretful nostalgia and frustrated ambition at the heart of small-town entrapment. He also makes good use - without slipping into excessive prettiness - of the often desolate landscapes of Otago farm country (Stuart Dryburgh, who shot several key Kiwi films of the early 1990s, makes a nice return home himself as cinematographer).

It's hard to write about the film without an awareness of McGann's very early death, and a sense that he was already a director of considerable skill: there's a unobtrusive intelligence at work, for example, in the way he moves his camera to add new information - a concealed boy, a piece of jewelry - rather than adding in an additional cut that might seem a distraction. He also has a great deal of confidence in his ability to stitch his material together: he doesn't signal the shift between time periods heavy-handedly, and yet it's always clear what is happening and how each new snippet of information contributes to the complex, richly detailed portrait of small-town and family life (the only exception is, perhaps, the role played by Miranda Otto; she's a fine actress, but she can't do much with a character never intended to be more than a cipher).

No comments:


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States