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




9781863957434

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their June picks

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

lisa-gorton_the-life-of-houses

James Tierney

A Novel of Longer Exhalations: Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses

It’s sometimes said that each book teaches you how to read it. That each way of telling a story needs to not only beguile anew but needs to tutor the reader in the ways to best attend its pages. Read more »

9781743316337

Danielle Binks

Finding Books for Young Readers: The Reading Children’s Book Prize

James Patterson once said, ‘There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading and kids who are reading the wrong books.’ So how do we get the right books into the hands of budding bibliophiles? Well, the Readings Children’s Book Prize Shortlist is a great place to start. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

kim-kardashian-selfish-cover-main

Brodie Lancaster

We Are All Kardashians

For the past five years, I have loved and been obsessed with the Kardashians. Specifically, the E! reality series that made them famous. I often feel the need to intellectualise why I like these series and the people on them – you know, because I’m not a moron, and these are shows about morons, for morons. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. 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 »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »