Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Directed by Peter Weir
January 31 at Lincoln Center, part of its Celebrating the Australian Film Revival
However you dress it—as the earthbound B-side of a Surrealist dream-film, as a koan-puzzle whose very lack of a solution is the source of its beauty, as a drowsy parable on childhood’’s end and feminine unattainableness—Weir’s career-making sophomore film has the unquantifiable allure of an opium jag. Impenetrable believe-it-or-nots like this are usually strange-but-true, and Weir knew it, subtly playing up the seemingly factual aspects (and dreamily doting on the interpretive aspects) of Joan Lindsay’s Borgesian tale, in which three Australian schoolgirls circa 1900 inexplicably vanish into or around the titular rock site during a St. Valentine’’s Day outing.
It’s a stupefying true story that never happened, envisioned as an idyll of linen, blonde hair, pollen-heavy breezes, and cosmic portent. Weir shoots the rock itself in looming fragments and discombobulating corridors—as somewhere between the monolithic house in The Haunting and Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch—but what chills and thrills is the movie’s dance between the literal and the elusively metaphoric. Any number of this-means-that lit-class readings can be applied to it (most of which would, at any rate, mix-n’-match large ideas about lost innocence, natural forces and repressed sexuality), and yet none suffice, whether you find yourself lamenting the tragedy of Miranda (Anne Lambert), the ethereal tamale who seems most conspicuously drawn toward the Whatever It Was, or of Sara (Margaret Nelson), the sullen poetess left behind, who loved Miranda and wanted only to get lost with her. The movie swoons with all its might, and it’s hard to resist doing the same.
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