Review: Joe Cinque’s Consolation
Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Gia Carides, Josh McConville, Sacha Joseph
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“…an unconventional mystery…”
Based on Helen Garner’s non-fiction book of the same title, Joe Cinque’s Consolation tells the story of the final days of the titular murder victim (Jerome Meyer), who died after his girlfriend, Anu Singh (Maggie Naouri) administered a fatal heroin overdose to him on October 26, 1997. Whereas Garner’s book concerned itself with Singh’s subsequent trial, writer and director Sotiris Dounoukos puts the spotlight on the doomed couple and, more intriguingly their social circle, and that’s where things become interesting.
What fascinates about the case is not that Cinque’s murder occurred, but that it was able to occur at all. Engineer Cinque and law student Singh were at the centre of a tangled social network of friends, colleagues and fellow students who all bore witness in some way or another as Singh, mentally unwell and given to histrionic fantasies of persecution and illness, begins to dream of, then actively plot, Cinque’s death. The film spends a lot of time with Singh, who initially posits to her friend and co-conspirator, Madhavi Rao (Sacha Joseph), that this will be a suicide pact. We see her plan Cinque’s death, acquiring Rohypnol and heroin to do the deed, and even going so far as to host a farewell dinner party – two, in fact; Singh’s first attempt fails, and the whole macabre event is staged again.
Naouri impresses as the erratic, obsessive Singh and Meyer is likable and relatable as her lover/victim, who struggles to help with her problems while unaware of her intentions. Australian screen stalwarts Gia Carides and Tony Nikolakopoulos likewise impress as Cinque’s parents. Unfortunately, the film is let down by a few flat performances in the surrounding ensemble, which is a pity; while the facts of Cinque’s death and Singh’s role in it are uncontestable, the film raises interesting questions about the culpability of their friends and what they could have done to prevent the tragedy.
Dounoukos conducts the proceedings with a detached, dispassionate eye, letting us observe the unfolding events without putting us in them. It lends the film a nightmarish quality, as we watch all the elements of Cinque’s death come together but are unable to intervene, separated from the scenario by the film’s cool tone. We’re spectators, like the rest of the Cinque/Singh circle, although our inaction is enforced.
The film stops short of giving concrete answers to the many questions it raises; indeed, it omits almost all of the events subsequent to the murder, leaving us only with the death itself. It’s an unconventional mystery, not so much asking whodunnit as why and how. Ultimately, Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a tragedy and clearly a preventable one; the knowledge that justice was eventually served makes it no easier to bear witness to.