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Somersault (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Until last night I was convinced that the sexiest woman in the screenworld was French actress Ludivine Sagnier (“Swimming Pool,””La Petite Lily”). Well, the lovely Ludivine better move over because Australian actress Abbie Cornish is coming up fast on the outside. I can’t remember a steamier portrayal than she gives in “Somersault.”

Written and directed by Cate Shortland, the winner of 13 Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Film, Best Actress, and Best Director, this 106 minute movie which was filmed in 2004 would be memorable if only for the opportunity to look at Cornish (Heidi) for more than an hour and a half.

Women aren’t left out, either, as they get to look at the hot, always-needs-a-shave, Sam Worthington (Joe), although he’s not in almost every scene, as is Cornish.

That should be enough for everyone, but the icing on the cake is that the script and directing by Shortland are brilliant. This is the story of a young 16-year-old woman, Heidi, who runs away full of guilt after she makes a move on her mother’s boy friend, to which her mother reacts negatively.

Shortland was inspired to write the script by the beauty of Lake George, between Sydney and Canberra, and her work with disturbed children. She set the story by a lake and her protagonist, Heidi, is based on one particular girl of whom she was fond.

Heidi is confused and broke. Worse, she is totally alone and has no one to consult or to use as a mentor. The only model is her mother who was openly living outside of marriage with a boy friend. Clearly, Heidi has no moral compass. As a result when she is out on her own all she knows is sex without commitment or responsibility, so she goes forward, groping, and making big mistakes.

This is a story about guilt and forgiveness. Heidi feels she has done something unforgivable to her mother, so she runs away, always awash in the guilt. She meets people who are just as confused as she, especially, Joe, the son of a wealthy farmer, whose father is distant, to say the least, and whose friends are selfish, inconsiderate rich kids.

Much of the success of the film is due to the hand-held cinematography of Robert Humphries. Says Humphries, “With a hand held camera you can react to the actors. What tends to happen is the actors don’t feel so locked into what they do, where they walk…They don’t have to hit marks so precisely and they’re much freer to go with whatever their character dictates.”

Humphries felt that Cornish, who was 21-years-old playing a 16-year-old, had to look substantially different from the other characters. “We did lots of tests on her and found that to depict her as a young girl it was much better if she was quite bluey pale, translucent. So you’ll find through the film she’s often lit with blue lights and everyone else is lit with warm lights to provide the contrast in age.”

There is a lot of nudity in the film. Especially near the end when a drunk, emotionally wasted Heidi picks up two guys in a bar, played by Toby Schmits and Henry Nixon, and takes them back to her flat, where they strip her and are going to take advantage of her. Says Shortland, “It was quite scary because we were all really worried about how it was going to be emotionally for Abbie. After the shoot, Abbie said it was one of the most amazing experiences, because the actors were so connected to each other and could really trust each other. It was great for me as a director, because they took it as far as they could. When Sam Worthington came through the door, he couldn’t believe how confronting it was.”

Marlene Dietrich, German femme fatale of the ‘30s and ‘40s, said she would ice her nipples before a scene so that they would be hard and protruding. There is a scene near the end of the movie in which Joe is pleasuring Heidi. Cornish’s nipples are so hard and protruding they look like budding carrots ready to be plucked. This scene is so hot it sizzles.

I found this to be a hypnotic film with a captivating story and terrific acting. Although he is overshadowed by Cornish, who carries the film, Worthington has lots of sex appeal and gives a broodingly good performance. Cornish, for all her beauty and sensuality is an exceptionally talented actress. I won’t even mention how good she looks au naturel.

April 12, 2006