Van Diemen's Land (2009)
Vegetarians be warned:
unless you feel vindicated by one man munching on anotherís raw flesh,
this not the film for you.
Meat eaters, too, might be turned off by this depiction of convicts
pushed to the edge in the raw Tasmanian landscape.
Van Diemenís Land, the debut feature of Australian director Jonathan auf
der Heide, tells the true story of the infamous Alexander Pearce (played
by co-writer Oscar Redding). We find him having been sent to the
Macquarie Harbour Penal Settlement in Tasmania, a sort of outdoor
Colditz for dangerous prisoners. Knowing that they are surely to die of
starvation, dysentery or the lash, he and seven other prisoners escape
into the wilderness.
Itís not long before the scarcity of food weighs on their spirits, the
rainforest largely devoid of animals, and they begin to look for more
immediate means to satiate their hunger.
Under the pretention of eerie colour-saturated photography, long moody
gazes into the empty forests and a self-consciously arty voice over (in
Gaelic), Auf Der Heide has ambitions of profundity his script canít
match. Tension is generated in exactly when and how the killings take
place, but each character, hidden under impressive beards, is
indistinguishable from the next. This, and the unrelentingly bleak tone,
make it a bit of a chore.
Undeniably though, itís well made, in particular, the cinematography by
veteran Ellery Ryan.
Itís at its best when it becomes a hypnotic Terence Malik kind of
existential, when the morally dubious characters reflect on their
actions and their place in the natural order of things , but it doesn't
make the film any easier to digest.
The disc contains a good array of features, including a commentary and
some insightful docos. Best of them are the three additional
self-depreciating featurettes (one has the clapperboard man describe his
subtle influence on the actorsí performances). These are funny and
uniquely Australian. In their more sincere moments, the interviews
reveal that this was clearly a project of love for the creative
principals. One should expect good things from Auf Der Heide in the
* Audio commentary with director and co-writer Jonathan auf der Heide,
co-writer and lead actor Oscar Redding and cinematographer Ellery Ryan
* A Journey Up River: Making Van Diemen's Land
* Three additional featurettes: The Battle of the Beards, Subtleties of
the Slate and From Bailbo to Van Diemen's Land
* Theatrical teaser and trailer
* Original Storyboards
* ATOM study guide