Anna (Jacqueline McKenzie) is in her early thirties - she has a burgeoning music career as a singer, and has a committed, loving relationship with her boyfriend David (Aaron Blabey), a painter.
Anna sings in a choir, her friend Lucy (Kirstie Hutton) is the conductor. Her remarkable voice and luminous presence command attention and, when the choir holds a concert to raise money for a tour of China, she is noticed by Edward (Chris Haywood), a wealthy, cultured man in his 60s.
Edward approaches Anna after the concert and asks her to call him. Although reluctant, Anna is encouraged by Lucy who hopes Edward may be able to help with the China trip.
Anna’s first visit to his imposing mansion is intoxicating. The dense artistic and erotic environment intrigues her. Edward talks openly about his passion for photography, music and the arts, his devotion to his ailing mother and his wife Desiree (Rebecca Frith), who takes lovers to fulfil a sexual need he can no longer satisfy. When Edward asks Anna to pose for a series of nude photographs, she sees no reason to refuse him.
David is miffed by Edwards’s attention to Anna, and when he sees the results of the photographic shoot, he becomes jealous and unnerved. Edward has captured an unseen side of Anna, a languid sensuality, and has started her on an intimate journey of self-discovery that can’t be halted. A new world of sensuality and eroticism is unfolding for Anna, when Desiree also becomes infatuated by her.
At home, Anna and David’s life is strained. Her erotic awakening has made it impossible for Anna to relate to David sexually. They both seek help to try and understand what’s come between them. Anna visits her mother to find clues hidden in her past and David confides in a friend whose advice encourages him to seek out his own erotic pleasures.
Desiree offers David and Anna the use of her run-down farmhouse in the south of France to help them sort their relationship out. On arrival, it’s the power and beauty of nature, as opposed to the beauty of man-made objects that has an influence on their relationship. When Anna reveals all to David about her relationship to Edward, David is thrown into such turmoil, their relationship seems doomed. Anna’s despair turns from grief to fear as Desiree’s French lover assumes too much of her.
Anna can only turn to David who responds and starts to understand what is required of him.
Director: Paul Cox
Producer: Mark Patterson
Writer: Paul Cox
Cinematographer: Ian Jones
Cast: Jacqueline McKenzie, Aaron Blabey, Chris Haywood, Rebecca Frith, Kirstie Hutton
Born in Holland and settled in Melbourne since the mid-‘60s, Paul Cox is an auteur of international acclaim, having received numerous international awards. He is one of the most prolific makers of films in Australia, with numerous features, shorts and documentaries to his name. He is the recipient of many special tributes and retrospectives at film festivals across the world, including a major retrospective at the Lincoln Centre in New York in 1992.
His films of the early and mid ‘80s – Lonely Hearts (1981), Man of Flowers (1983), and My First Wife (1984) – were highly acclaimed both locally and internationally.
Man of Flowers premiered in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, and went on to win Best Film at the 1984 Valladolid Film Festival as well as Best Foreign Film at the 1991 Warsaw Film Festival.
Cactus premiered in Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986 and Vincent won the Jury Prize at the 1988 Istanbul International Filmdays.
A Woman's Tale won the Grand Prix at the 1992 International Flanders Film Festival in Ghent and Exile screened in competition at the 1994 Berlin International Film Festival.
More recently, Cox's highly acclaimed feature Innocence (2000) won massive audience and critical acclaim, including Best Film and the People's Choice Award at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival; and 5 Australian IF awards including Best Film, Independent Filmmaker of the Year for Paul Cox, and Best Actress for Julia Blake.
Cox’s career continues currently, with features such as Human Touch (2004) and Salvation (2008).
If ever there was a typical Paul Cox film, it's this one. The basic idea is a re-working of Man of Flowers, in which Norman Kaye was the rich man who wanted young women to pose nude for him.
Norman Kaye can be briefly glimpsed in this film, too. Cox is very loyal to his family of actors, but Jacqueline McKenzie has replaced previous Cox actresses like Wendy Hughes and Gosia Dobrowolska, and she's very good as the young woman concerned that her relationship with her partner is getting stale and finding herself drawn to this kinky character twice her age.
As the strangely-motivated millionaire, Chris Haywood gives his usual assured performance, and Aaron Blabey makes the most of his role as Anna's frustrated partner. Julia Blake and Charles Tingwell, from Innocence, pop up briefly as Anna's parents.
This time around, the mixture of art, sex and philosophy and also caring for the sick and elderly, doesn't quite gell as it does in the best of Cox's work; his themes have become rather too familiar and predictable.
But nevertheless his sincerity and passion, and his fascination for all aspects of the human condition, good and bad, shine through.
- David Stratton, At the Movies
Paul Cox is one of the most important filmmakers to come out of Australia ... he is a filmmaker of incredible energy, persistence and vision - all qualities which are crucial to survive as a filmmaker. He is also uncompromising in fulfilling his vision which is almost always achieved with comparatively small budgets of about $1 million. As a director, he has an ongoing screen relationship with many of Australia's greatest actors. The themes in his films - isolation, faith, hope, love, survival - remain the same and reoccur over and over, but above all else his films are about human frailty ...
Philip Tyndall, "Paul Cox - Filmmaker", Senses of Cinema
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