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Look Both Ways
cast: William McInnes, Justine Clarke, Anthony Hayes, and Lisa Flanagan

director: Sarah Watt

100 minutes (12) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Look Both Ways has been compared with another recent Australian film, Lantana, which only goes to prove there is a fine line between genius and cliché. Both films have a spider's web of connections between the wide variety of characters, and one touch of the web here will affect someone away over there. Coincidences abound in what may be a metaphor for a small, isolated population.

Nick (William McInnes) is a photographer who has travelled the world but who returned home to be with his parents when his father died. Then he, too, finds that he has widespread cancer. This is on the Friday (the film takes place over the course of a weekend), and his editor offers to give him time off. Nick refuses and instead goes with Andy the reporter (Anthony Hayes) to cover a train accident, where a man has been killed, and they interview the witness, Meryl (Justine Clark), and photograph the widow as she stumbles on the scene. Nick captures the widow just at the moment that she realises what has happened, and the picture makes the front page on the Saturday edition, much to Andy's irritation. Andy is busy trying to inject something meaningful into his copy, while forgetting that as he muses on the suicide/ accident ratio, his stories are affecting real people. Nick bumps into Meryl afterwards, and they quickly begin a relationship. Meryl, coincidently, has just lost her own father, but initially doesn't know that Nick is also probably dying. Death is the theme of the film, and for the most part it is gently and inventively explored.

Nick and Meryl's viewpoints come to us in an unusual manner. Nick's memories flood over the screen in a cascade of almost subliminal photographs, which is a very effective way of giving us backstory. Meryl is an artist (not the greatest one in the world, it must be said, but as some of 'her' paintings are done by the director, it is impossible to say if this is deliberate) and she is crippled by fear. Emma Kelly's painted flowing animation shows us all of Meryl's fears were they to come true. Unfortunately, when the two techniques combine in a bedroom scene (and by this time Nick's imagining googled cancer cells as well), it is almost too much to expect the viewer to keep a straight face. Another flaw is the cloying use of new country power ballads in the soundtrack, which gives the viewer the feeling of being emotionally lectured.

Lantana succeeded because it was put together with precision: nothing was out of place. Look Both Ways stumbles because it looks like it needed another draft at the script stage. The side-story with the train driver (Andreas Sobik looking thoroughly lost) is totally undeveloped and unnecessary, although it could have been so much more meaningful. Much the same could be said of the newspaper editor, who is sidelined pretty early on but keeps popping up over the weekend with his little vignettes of family life.

But it's not a bad film. Both leads, although still relatively unknown, are excellent, and the core of the film succeeds in its aims. And it finishes on as powerful and moving a note as you will see in any film this decade. For that alone, it would be worth sitting through.

The extra features are a five-minute animation from 2001 (Living With Happiness: A Short Film by Sarah Watt) that is along similar lines to Meryl's fears in the main feature, a short making-of featurette, and the original trailer.
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