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  Picnic at Hanging Rock Without A Trace
Year: 1975
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Rachel Roberts, Vivean Gray, Helen Morse, Kirsty Child, Margaret Nelson, Dominic Guard, John Jarratt, Anne-Louise Lambert, Karen Robson, Christine Schuler, Wyn Roberts, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Jacki Weaver, Jane Vallis, Ingrid Mason
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: On St Valentine's Day in 1900, a very strange event happened in Australia involving many of the teenage girls and staff of Mrs Appleyard's Educational College for Young Ladies. As it was a day for celebration amongst the girls, a trip to the local volcanic rock formation of Hanging Rock had been arranged, although one girl, Sara (Margaret Nelson) was told to stay behind with one of the teachers due to minor misdemeanours. The most popular girl in the school was Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), who Sara had an innocent crush on, and it was she who would be at the centre of the mystery. After telling the girls that they were allowed to remove their gloves once the reached the Rock because it was a hot day, Mrs Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) saw them off, and what was hoped to be pleasant Saturday was embarked upon. But not everyone would return...

One of the most celebrated of the Australian New Wave films, it was also the work that put director Peter Weir on the international map. Adapted from the novel by Joan Lindsay by Cliff Green, a novel that did much to raise Australia's literary standing just as the film did the same for the country's movies, many were under the impression that Picnic at Hanging Rock was in fact based on a true story, and the filmmakers were keen to keep up that misconception. But although it has a crucial ring of truth about it, perhaps in the way that there's never a satisfactory explanation offered as to what happened, it was all made up - a damn good story nevertheless.

When the girls and their teachers reach Hanging Rock the enigma heightens, with all their watches stopping simultaneously at twelve o'clock, an event which tutor Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray) puts down to magnetism. After dedicating a cake to St Valentine, four of the girls, led by Miranda, grow restless and set off and explore their surroundings. As they wander off and cross a stream, they are spotted by a couple of young men, refined Michael (Dominic Guard) and the more uncouth manservant Albert (John Jarratt) accompanying a different party. They never speak, but it's an image the men never forget.

It's Miranda who is at the heart of this story, as her beauty makes quite an impact on everyone who even catches a brief sight of her, as Michael does. Some have read the film as an allegory of young girls' sexual awakening, with Miranda leaving her childhood behind and blossoming into womanhood in such a dramatic way that it creates a mystery around her. What happens to the four girls as they climb the landscape? Could the Victorian repression have squeezed them out of reality like toothpaste from a tube? We never find out, one minute chubby complainer Edith (Christine Schuler) is lying on the stones in a state of exhaustion, next she is screaming as the other three advance without her and the action cuts to later that evening, where Mrs Appleyard is wondering where her charges and staff are.

Not only have three girls vanished, but Miss McCraw has as well, and not knowing what to think the police expect the worst - have they been abducted, raped, even murdered? A search party is arranged, but there's no sign of them and later Michael, tormented by his glimpse of Miranda, stays up at Hanging Rock to explore personally. The next day he is found scratched and delirious, but clutching a piece of lace from a dress; Albert goes up there himself, and incredibly discovers one of the girls, Irma (Karen Robson), in an unconscious state. And does she remember what happened? What do you think? There's a lot that is arch and coy about the film, but it carries it off and has moments of unsettling brilliance. Take note of the soundtrack especially, a mixture of wildilfe noises, rumbling, classical extracts, Gheorghe Zamfir's panpipes and Bruce Smeaton's electronic score making plain the hysteria that sits beneath the surface. Unfortunately the tension falls away once Irma reappears, but like any good unsolved mystery it stays with you, the oppressive atmosphere and depiction of delicate flowers lost to impenetrable nature as sinister as any high quality horror movie.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Peter Weir  (1944 - )

Australian writer and director with a touch of the mystical about his work, usually fish out of water dramas. After various short films, he made The Cars That Ate Paris, a darkly funny horror which nearly ended his career when it failed financially. But he bounced back with Picnic at Hanging Rock, an international hit which led to apocalyptic fantasy The Last Wave, war tragedy Gallipoli and political thriller The Year of Living Dangerously, whereupon he moved to Hollywood to direct Amish thriller Witness, survival tale The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poets Society (possibly his worst film), comedy Green Card, spiritual air crash drama Fearless, science fiction satire The Truman Show, historical adventure Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and WW2 era trek movie The Way Back.

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