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  Sirens The Sensual World
Year: 1994
Director: John Duigan
Stars: Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, Sam Neill, Elle MacPherson, Portia de Rossi, Kate Fischer, Pamela Rabe, Ben Mendelsohn, John Polson, Mark Gerber, Julia Stone, Ellie MacCarthy, Vincent Ball, John Duigan, Lexy Murphy, Scott Lowe
Genre: Comedy, Drama, SexBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: An English Reverend, Anthony Campion (Hugh Grant), has been assigned by his bishop to confront the artist Norman Lindsay (Sam Neill) about his latest work. He is a controversial painter because of his extensive use of sexual imagery, or at least copious nudity, so when this new work features Venus being crucified naked on the cross instead of Christ, for the religious authorities this is the last straw. Campion, accompanied by his wife Estella (Tara Fitzgerald), makes his way out to the remote Australian location of Lindsay's home, but he will have a fight on his hands...

Although the premise makes it sound as if Campion, or perhaps Lindsay, are the main characters, actually after a while it becomes clear that Estella is our protagonist, for her straightlaced, buttoned-down ways are about to be shaken up. This was one of Australian auteur John Duigan's quirky takes on life, and as often he had his own views on sexuality to impart, which tended to be placed in the dialogue of Neill's character, rendering him less a rounded personality than a mouthpiece for artistic freedom in the face of stifling prudery that he perceived the actual Lindsay must have endured in his career.

Norman Lindsay was a real man, although Sirens was a work of fiction which featured him and his family, and Michael Powell had already tackled his story in his sixties movie Age of Consent. That film found its selling point being the nudity, as did this one, but while Powell had one Helen Mirren to entice the punters, Duigan made sure that there were far more actresses getting their kit off for artistic purposes, all in service of the plot, naturally, and not because it was a thrill for the audience. Well, maybe that was the intention as well, as the undraped females (and one male) were depicted in hazy, summery, sexual fantasy fashion, and Duigan appeared perfectly sincere in celebrating their pulchritude.

Once Campion and Estella reach the house, after a meeting with the rough-hewn locals who are less than impressed with Lindsay and his models, they find they're pretty much stuck there for a few days, just long enough for the erotic atmosphere to work its magic on Estella. She starts out prim and unhappy, so we're meant to see her transformation to a more open minded person as liberating, though she's still fairly prim at the end, just with a naughty streak that she doesn't feel ashamed about indulging. One of the models, Sheela (supermodel Elle MacPherson, who garnered most of the publicity at the time), knows exactly what Estella's problem is, and goes about loosening her up in not so subtle ways.

The other models are Pru (Kate Fischer), a dyed in the wool Communist who Campion finds, if anything, more objectionable than Lindsay's explicit artworks, and Giddy (Portia de Rossi in her debut), an innocent who refuses to do nudity for the poses and whose own awakening into the world of the sensual mirrors Estella's, although she is of a more amiable and sunny disposition. Lindsay's wife Rose (Pamela Rabe) also models, but while you might think that Campion would be some red in the face moralist, he's far more reasonable, a nice touch of character that ensures nobody is really the villain here, there's simply a difference of opinion going on that seems less important the longer the Campions stay on at the Lindsay dwelling. If the censorship themes are unintentionally slight and the sexuality a bit silly, pretentious even, they don't prevent Sirens from being a charming, dreamy work a notch above soft porn. Music by Rachel Portman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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