Reviews

Picnic At Hanging Rock: Deluxe Edition

4

“Don’t worry about us. We shall only be gone a little while…” Peter Weir’s breakout feature, this is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle, chained in a multi-chambered puzzle box, weighed down with the ballast of bafflement and plopped into the lake of infinite mystery. It plays like a ghostly companion piece to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides: tousled and troubled young women, sexual awakening, repression, identity issues, adult-teenage clash… Like Suicides, it’s wistful, drowsy, wispy, dreamy and just a little bit dippy in places. But it also delves deeper, stirring up more universal themes than tortured youth and rich-girl angst.

On Valentine’s Day 1900, five girls from a flouncy Australian finishing school head out to Hanging Rock (a real formation in Victoria) for a field study. Three go missing. A few days later, one turns up with a blank memory… Weir weaves the story like a woozy spell. At first, the plummy, period-drama frills seem clipped and correct (fusty colonial décor, clunking clocks). But once the girls leave the school grounds, a supernatural mist descends and Weir glazes the outing in soft-focus, time-scorched sepia, shooting the disappearance like a metaphysical horror show.

For the Director’s Cut, he’s refreshingly clipped the running time. But the original’s here as well, bundled as part of a sumptuous three-disc pack which is both exhaustive and exhausting (character profiles of all the teachers, anyone?). So – alien abduction? Timeslip? Kidnap? Too crass, too kooky... It’s more literary than literal: change, passing over, mourning for the fragile idyll of childhood, sighing for innocence lost… The rock – primal, sexual – that swallows up the girls is an unknowable portal for their journey from adolescence into adulthood. There’s also a sense of ascension and a mood of hysterical joy in the tears that follow the girls’ vanishing. They go, but remain... (There’s comfort for the bereaved here.) Mostly, though, Weir is careful to present the events as intangible, with multiple explanations. It’s art imitating life: no neat solutions, no easy resolutions…

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