Cactus

Paul Cox's films (My First Wife, Man of Flowers) are a lot like academic recitals: the performance is basically competent, but the notes are all familiar and the emotional responses are programmed in. In this one, Isabelle Huppert goes blind in one eye as the result of an auto crash (filmed in lyrical montage to eliminate the blood: Cox is nothing if not a respecter of fine stomachs), and every hill and landscape and babbling brook in Australia becomes a melancholy reflection of her elegant travail. Cox thinks of himself as a modernist and likes to trick up his films with Super-8 flashbacks (lots of 'em here) and occasional surrealist gestures, but the basic sensibility, with its poetic personifications (no image ever stands for itself) and conventional emotional readings (what ever happened to ironic distance?), belongs squarely in the 19th century, amid the ratifying complacencies of middle-class self-regard. Far from being an Australian mini-Herzog, Cox seems more like the last Victorian survivor. With Robert Menzies and the inevitable Norman Kaye; Australian writer Morris Lurie had a hand in the script.

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