“Lantana is a love story and a mystery,” the film’s director, Ray Lawrence, told FilmInk in 2001. “It’s a mystery that we fall in love with somebody and stay with them. Love is a struggle, but I actually think that this is a date movie. If you’re in a relationship and you see this film, it can only enhance it. It shows the importance of having somebody. Increasingly, people don’t. If you want it, you can have it, but you have to work at it – that’s a very important part of the film. It’s a really human story.”
While its rich sense of style (brilliantly and sensitively wrought by director, Ray Lawrence, who helmed the 1985 classic, Bliss, and whose only subsequent film remains 2006’s incendiary Jindabyne) and downbeat, artistic leanings marked the 2001 Australian drama as a strictly arthouse proposition, its accessible story and familiar faces (Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Peter Phelps, Glenn Robbins, Russell Dykstra, Leah Purcell, Vince Colosimo) saw it break out and become an unlikely commercial hit of rarely glimpsed proportions.
Boasting a rich script from Andrew Bovell (based upon his own play), densely layered cinematography from the great Mandy Walker (Australia, Tracks), and evocative music from the legendary Paul Kelly (along with Peter Luscombe, Shane O’Mara, Bruce Haymes, and Steve Hadley), Lantana is a slick, stylish drama seething with dark and passionate undertones. It gets right inside the concepts of love and marriage, and skillfully paints a picture that bristles not just with paranoia and betrayal, but also with hope and compassion. Dealing with four different couples (Anthony LaPaglia’s compromised detective, however, is the film’s emotional anchor) whose lives unravel and intersect when the body of a woman is found in bushland just outside of Sydney, Lantana never buckles under the weight of its complex narrative and heavy themes.
An engrossing drama that broils with emotions distinctly real and recognisable, Lantana stands as a true original. “A good film is a balance between entertainment and intelligence,” Ray Lawrence told FilmInk. “That’s a difficult balance, but I think that I managed it with this one. If I hadn’t made it, I’d like to see it. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I actually love the film. Art is about sharing. When Vincent Van Gogh painted, he wanted to share it with others. So when people walk out of Lantana, and they remember it for five minutes in order to perhaps recommend it to someone, then Ray Lawrence has succeeded in creating art.”
And what a mighty, powerful, moving, and emotionally honest piece of art it is!