Australia (1989)

“I wanted to be left alone.”

In the film, Australia wool merchant Edouard Pierson (Jeremy Irons) returns to his native Belgium to help salvage the failing family wool business. Edouard, a pilot during WWII, immigrated to Australia 10 years earlier in 1945. He’s estranged from his surviving family, and he has a 12-year old daughter (Danielle Lyttleton) in Australia that no one is aware of. Once in Belgium, Edouard meets Jeanne Gauthier (Fanny Ardant), the beautiful wife of an affluent man, and he’s deeply attracted to her.

The film contrasts the Old World–Belgium–with the New World–Australia. Edouard’s hometown is heavily industrialized with ancient factories, but Australia is sun-baked, wide-open spaces. Edouard is well aware that the wool industry in Belgium is dying, and he’s mentally made the adjustment, and accepted that his future lies in Australia. Edouard’s brother, Julien (Tcheky Karyo), refuses to accept that the business is finished, and antagonism between the two brothers emerges as a result. Curiously, while Edouard has absorbed the financial realities of life in Australia, he has not adjusted to the present in his personal life. Edouard’s journey back to his former home in Belgium helps him to forge together the past and the present.

In spite of the fact that the story unfolds in three different countries–Australia, Belgium, and England, the film goes nowhere. There are hints of a dark secret that caused the rift between Edouard and his family, but this is all a storm in a teacup. Jeremy Irons–who always plays the bruised, emotionally devastated male so well–is great in the role, but unfortunately the script doesn’t really warrant the extreme behaviours its characters endure. Fanny Ardant is luminous, but her character is problematic. Who on earth goes to a hotel for a wild fling, but then wastes time whining about how hard it is to be a little rich girl? Australia is built like an epic soap opera, but it is ultimately a disappointing film with a lackluster ending. In French with English subtitles. From director Jean-Jacques Andrien

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Filed under Belgium, Fanny Ardant

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