Advertisement

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




monroe

James Tierney

Survival and Contradiction: Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times

This book’s most impressive trick is in the way it pulls together seemingly disparate figures. In this fierce, insightful and wide-ranging collection, Jacqueline Rose calls for nothing less than a reformulation of feminism. Read more »

Clive-James-typical-mix-o-014

Cosima McGrath

The Unreliable Truth of Clive James

Some authors hermit themselves away and are unknowable to the public except through their writing. Clive James, on the other hand, carries his own spotlight. Read more »

9781926428659

James Tierney

Converting the Nonbeliever: Science fiction, climate change, and James Bradley’s Clade

For most of my reading life, I passed right over the fantasy and science fiction genres. As far as I was concerned, The Lord of the Rings was a decent doorstop, Dune was a prime spot on the beach from which to check out the swell, and 2001 meant only a year of once-distant promise, and now spiralling dread. Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

fx-2015-winter-tcajpeg-069cb_c0-146-3500-2186_s561x327

Rebecca Shaw

Billy, Don’t Be a Homophobe

As a non-heterosexual person who has lived my entire life in a heteronormative world, I have a finely tuned antenna for homophobia. Loaded terms, like those used recently by Billy Crystal, are becoming more common, as it becomes less acceptable to state openly that you get an icky feeling when you see two people of the same sex kiss. Read more »

B5QJwMhIYAAfjxG

Rebecca Shaw

A Tale of Two Penises: Double Dick Dude and the invisibility of male bisexuality

For the past year I have found myself fascinated by penises. If I’d been to the races, I would have created a monstrous dick fascinator to wear as a beautiful physical representation of my mental state. But let me be clear, I have not been captivated with all or even many penises. My fascination has solely been aimed at the two penises owned by the man known only as ‘Diphallic Dude’, or more casually ‘DoubleDickDude’. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

cdn.indiewire

Kate Middleton

On the Trail: Wild and the voyage of the modern woman

Strayed articulates the question that drives so many pilgrimage narratives: ‘What if I forgive myself?’ That same question perhaps suggests why female-driven journeys are resonating with audiences now: self-reliance and the abandonment of a conventional life have long been male-dominated themes. Read more »

Film Review Selma

Anwen Crawford

An Urgent and Motivating Anger: The politics of Selma

How to approach a figure with the reputation of a secular saint? One achievement of Selma – and it is a film of many achievements – is to reanimate King as a living, breathing man; a man of politics, strategy, and absolute, underlying resolve. 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 »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

39154_4f8f076801b89b442752af76ac226fc0

Anwen Crawford

Satire and Scandal: Revisiting Frontline

Frontline’s makers could not have anticipated the long, web-based afterlife of their creation, though they might not be surprised that their targets – the rampant egotism and moral hypocrisies of tabloid journalism – remain just as current. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

wowx5-artwork-012-full

Katie Williams

Killing Monsters and Making Memories: How virtual worlds facilitate communication

When I hang out with my brother, we joke, make fun of each other, and swap stories about mutual friends. Sometimes, we’ll each pack a bag of stat-enhancing potions and go out to kill large monsters. It’s been well over a year since I saw my brother in the flesh – but thanks to World of Warcraft, I interact with him on a daily basis. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »

The-Rabbits-2015-1280x470

Jane Howard

Thinking Outside the Box Seats: The future of Australian opera and musical theatre

If we want to see new work and innovation grow in opera and musical theatre, we need to consider how they might develop within our culture. Read more »

MovingMusicAndreCastellucci1

Jane Howard

The (Sometimes) Beauty of Being Alone at the Theatre

I often go to the theatre on my own. One of the great joys of writing reviews is that even when I attend productions solo, I still get to talk (write) about them at length after the fact. Seeing theatre is a wonderful activity to do unaccompanied, because as soon as the performance starts, everyone is alone in some way. Read more »