KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Art / Music / Theatre

In defence of Adoration

by Dion Kagan , December 9, 2013Leave a comment

adoresf94

Just from watching the film trailer you can intuit that Adoration, the recent Australian/French co-production directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel), would screen to some unsympathetic audiences. Adapted from a novella called The Grandmothers by the recently departed Doris Lessing, Adoration (originally titled Two Mothers and Adore in the US) is about two beautiful best friends, Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts), who take on each other’s 17-year-old sons (also besties) in a long-term arrangement as their lovers. Reviewers have pointed to how ‘tasteful’ this exploration of taboo romance is but Adoration has also generated at least three different types of critical scorn.

The principal strain of hostility appears to be directed toward the film’s very earnest dramatisation of its (not literally incestuous but incestuous feeling) intergenerational romances. American critics in particular have said that it is ‘totally unbelievable’. Variety scathingly called it ‘a softcore cougar fantasy’, bristling that its director would take such a ‘solemn’ approach to what should have, in the reviewer’s opinion, been ‘handled as an over-the-top sex farce’ (the performances, writes Justin Chang, ‘lend the material more dignity and interest than it warrants’). That Lessing’s strange ménage a quarte morality tale might be rendered as a serious love story on screen is apparently a joke. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers appeared to take special pleasure recalling that the first showing was ‘nearly laughed off the screen’ at Sundance.

The second derisive strain is that unique form of contempt reserved for the cluster of generic characteristics that constitutes a cinema of the ‘art house middlebrow’. There’s a long history of hating on these types of films, with their easy viewing pleasures and frequently women-oriented domestic dramas, especially among devoted cinephiles. Think of that special loathing reserved for heritage films (i.e. anything by Merchant Ivory or Miramax) and for anything that can be written off as ‘sentimental’ or ‘melodramatic’ in the pejorative (as opposed to descriptive) sense.

But the harshest criticism has come from critics annoyed that Lessing’s caustic morality tale has been transformed into a film that reserves judgment. ‘There has been a serious glitch in translation’, writes Sandra Hall in the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Lessing’s astringent tone has become a casualty… As a result, a morality tale has turned to mush’. Director Fontaine is

‘so mesmerised by the visual potential of bronzed young bodies flexing their muscles against blue water and golden sands that she has difficulty aiming the camera at anything else… The lovers come across as being so delighted by their own beauty and audacity that the story’s darker implications are in great danger of being bleached out of the picture by sex and sunshine’.

But the source material makes it very clear that this is a study in relationships wrought by an unusual combination of beauty, privilege and isolation. ‘These lives were easy’, Lessing writes in the novella. ‘Not many people in the world have lives so pleasant, unproblematical, unreflecting: no one in these blessed coasts lay awake and wept for their sins, or for money, let alone for food.’

Adoration’s impossibly beautiful, hermetically sealed world is plainly portrayed by the omnipresent symbol of the jetty, where the tight friendships of both Roz and Lil and later their sons, Tom (James Frecheville) and Ian (Xavier Samuel) are forged, and then later where dangerous intergenerational liaisons unfold. The fantasy image of this beautiful foursome, lying forever under an Australian sun that won’t age or destroy them, captures the essence of the film: it’s an impossible fantasy.

Scorn has something of disgust in it, which has something of anxiety. That Adoration has received mostly negative reviews, however justified on performance or scripting grounds, also suggests a discomfort with the subject matter. And fair enough. Intergenerational sex and intergenerational love is troubling. This is classic taboo territory. There are good reasons why these relationships are kept a secret among the characters.

George Orwell famously wrote that ‘by age fifty everyone has the face he deserves’. The scandal of Adoration is that neither Roz nor Lil appear all that much the worse for wear, despite the wreckage caused by their forbidden entanglements. Fontaine treats her subjects with a sort of distanced compassion, using their failings to suggest our own potential for the same. That’s what makes Adoration a bold, provocative and troubling film. That no one in it is unambiguously held up to the moral scrutiny of its gaze is precisely the unnerving, uncomfortable point. As Lisa Kennedy wrote in the Denver Post, ‘what’s shocking here is how not shocking all this is. Watts and Wright provide interesting portraits of two friends who really do appear to have an unconditional fondness for each other. They make the unfathomable believable–almost’.

Dion Kagan is a Killings columnist, academic and arts writer who works on film, theatre, sex and popular culture. He lectures in gender and sexuality studies in the screen and cultural studies program at Melbourne University. 

ACO logo




AffirmPress_Fallen_CVR

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A Bride Stripped Bare: A writer gets naked on the path from novel to memoir

You can find my book in the nonfiction section of the bookstore. I can’t deny it. It’s even me on the cover. And it is me, talking on radio and writing in women’s magazines about open marriages, non-monogamy, and how religion can fuck up your sexuality. People are calling me ‘brave’, but I’m not sure it’s a compliment. I feel so naked. How did this happen? Read more »

9781921924835

Gerard Elson

Dissolving Into Humanity: An interview with A.S. Patrić

A.S. Patrić’s fifth book, Black Rock White City, is not your typical immigrant novel. Its married protagonists, Jovan and Suzana Brakočević, are academics from the former Yugoslavia. She is a would-be novelist, he a former poet – the couple were displaced to Melbourne at the end of the last millennium by the ravaging Bosnian war. Read more »

9781922079381

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their picks from April

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

gbbo

Rebecca Shaw

Crumbling the Great Wall of Heteronormative Assumption

You are just there to see a doctor, or have a haircut, when all of a sudden you are reminded that you are different. You are forced to come out to strangers over and over again. You are required to either refute their assumptions and risk having an awkward or unpleasant discussion with a stranger about your personal life, or you are forced to lie. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

What does it mean to film the same performers over the course of years, to have them age in front of the camera? Everyday pays careful attention to boredom, and at moments it manages to capture a sense of time that is both elusive and profound. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »