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New Directions: The Waiting City

Unfolding against the colour, passion and uncensored emotion of Calcutta, The Waiting City is set to ignite Sydney screens this Thursday. As the latest film from writer and director Claire McCarthy, The Waiting City explores the journey of Fiona and Ben, an Australian couple who travel to India to collect their adopted daughter. Faced with unfamiliar bureaucratic hitches, a city defined by contradictions and an understated sense of desperation, the couple begin to question their lives, choices and relationship. As overzealous as it may sound, one can’t escape the sneaking suspicion that The Waiting City will lead Australian film in a bold new direction.

Claire explains that “a great deal of the film is based on an amalgamation of real life situations, friends and interview subjects. Although it is most certainly a work of fiction… it’s imagined, personal, researched and observed.” Indeed, in 2002 Claire and her sister Helena ventured to Calcutta to volunteer at a local orphanage, Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Claire returned to the intoxicating world of Calcutta seven times to record Helena’s continuing experience at the orphanage. The resulting documentary was aptly titled Sisters, and examines “the people behind adoption as well as the people and city of Calcutta … [and] became a jumping off point for research and development of The Waiting City.”

Eager to see how Australian audiences respond to The Waiting City, Claire explains that filmmaking is “all about whether a film has to be made”, and she therefore wanted to ensure the film contained something original that would somehow “impact the way audiences see and feel about the things important to their life”. By questioning notions of parenthood, morality, spirituality and culture, while being the first Australian film to be shot entirely in India, The Waiting City is truly set to stand on its own – regardless of the inevitably positive opinion.

Radha Mitchell, who plays the stunningly elegant yet controlling Fiona, shares Claire’s passion for India. Both women see the region as an interesting canvas to explore transformation and a place where life, death and everything in between can unfold completely free of censorship. Claire observes that Radha’s involvement in The Waiting City is proof the stars haven’t lost their ability to align. When shooting a music video for Old Man River in India, “one of our Indian crew asked me who I wanted to play the lead, and I said I loved Radha because she’s so radiant and has a strong connection with India. He went to The Times of India and told them an Australian director wanted to work with Radha. She found the article online when googling herself, rang her agent and asked ‘What is this Australian movie that I’m supposed to be doing?’ Her agent happened to have the only copy of the script on her desk so she read it and decided to do it.”

Claire’s decision to cast Joel Edgerton as the calmly artistic Ben was a tad less serendipitous. Ben is “in some respects a ‘man child’ – an amalgam of a boy and man” and this is quite a difficult balance to strike. As Claire insists, Joel is an actor who can portray intense vulnerability against fatherly strength without risking his character’s believability. The fact that he could play the guitar and sing simply proved there was no one else for the role.

Judging by the overwhelmingly strong response The Waiting City received at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, it appears Claire has managed to capture something astounding. The work is visually spectacular, expertly written and will no doubt reaffirm our faith in the trusty old Australian film – or our desire to explore the world beyond our front door.

The Waiting City opens this Thursday at a theatre near you. Hopefully.

words: Liz Schaffer


July 13, 2010 at 7:59 AM Anonymous said...

Loved the review and the prose - a must see/must read

July 23, 2010 at 11:39 AM Lali said...

A wonderful and most enjoyable film experience. I love hearing the insights from director Claire McCarthy.

A contender for some big awards this year I think.

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