(Above: Abbey Cornish in Somersault)
Estranged Australian teen seeks solace in sex
Director/Writer: Cate Shortland
Cinematography: Robert Humphreys
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran
Studio info: Magnolia Pictures, 106 mins.
The debut feature film from Australian director Cate Shortland, Somersault charts the flight of 16-year-old Heidi (Abbie Cornish), a disaffected, vaguely dim-witted teen who darts off to Jindabyne, a tourist-riddled Australian ski town, following a botched affair with her mother’s boyfriend.
Curling up in the now-empty flat of a man imprisoned for murder, Heidi whips into survival mode, exchanging sex with strangers for warm beds and a bit of company.
Like most seasonal resorts, Jindabyne is an awkwardly transient (and, thus, highly fitting) spot, and the tension between locals and tourists—working-class kids and wealthy dilettantes—is instantly palpable. Heidi snags a job at a gas station and initiates a painful affair with a local farmhand, Joe (Sam Worthington), who’s simultaneously allured and disgusted by Heidi’s self-destructive tendencies. Her downward spiral is captivating, but Somersault eventually gives in to rote self-explanation, writing away Heidi’s violent sexual awakening as a response to loneliness, and unnecessarily amping its players’ personal confusion (Joe dabbles in homosexuality for all of 30 seconds).
Eventually, Heidi encounters Karl (Blake Pittman), a child suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism marked by an inability to empathize or read the social cues and expressions of others. Karl’s screentime is limited, but his presence is key: everyone here is emotionally dysfunctional.
Shot entirely with handheld cameras, Somersault is shaky and ominous, and the threat of total dissolution consistently looms, though it never arrives. Still, the film lacks resolution, and its self-contemplation can get awfully tiring. Individual shots are breathtakingly composed, the soundtrack (by Sydney five-piece Decoder Ring) is dissonant and affecting, the acting is understated and compelling—but as a piece of narrative cinema, Somersault just doesn’t add up to very much.