When 16-year old Heidi (Abbie Cornish) foolishly approaches her Mom's boyfriend and gives him more than a friendly kiss on the cheek her world immediately collapses with a bang. As a result she embarks on a bitter journey of self-discovery where along the way jagged-looking Joe (Sam Worthington) will stand up next to her. In a world ruled by grown-up men Heidi will attempt to find true love in places where such does not exist.
An utterly poetic story about maturation Somersault (2004) comes to US shores as the highest-decorated Australian film in quite some time winning 13 AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards including Best Film, Best Actress, and Best Direction, among others. Beautifully photographed and superbly acted Somersault is indeed a pleasant surprise where just about all of the typical areas film-critics love to scrutinize are handled with impressive care: dialog, script, secondary characters, direction.
What truly separates Somersault from other pictures that deal with the same subject is the beautiful blonde Abbie Cornish. Heidi, the character which she is asked to play, quickly becomes a "real" person and those who watch this film will discover that the little things Heidi does (an innocent smile, a gentle touch) truly provide Somersault with an indescribable in simple words charm.
Watching Somersault I was quickly reminded about another film, Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer of Love (2004), which premiered at the same time the Aussie production did. While the two films certainly relied on different approaches to build their stories in my opinion there are quite a few similarities between the two of them-they both use female character(s), maturation is in the middle of the two stories, and music appears to be an integral part of the narrative. In Somersault however Aussie writer-director Cate Shortland goes a step further in exploring the brittle psyche of her young protagonist.
Somersault also appears to be a bit more refined than My Summer of Love. The use of color by the Aussie director is particularly impressive and during the outdoor you will be hard-pressed not to recognize the fact that Somersault offers an impressive cinematography. Couple that with the fact that Abbie Cornish moves so naturally in front of the camera and you have a film with some very impressive qualities.
This being said I find it very strange that from all places Australia seems to be the source of some of the harshest criticism the film has garnered thus far. I am unsure why so many Australian fans seem to be disappointed with Somersault's message and more importantly its execution. As I mentioned above cinematographer Robert Humphreys has done a true miracle here and the soundtrack by Aussie electro-rock gurus Decoder Ring is nothing short of outstanding. This is a contemporary film for the mind and senses and as far as I am concerned one of the best to ever come out from the land down under.
Last but not least it is worth mentioning that Somersault has achieved some remarkable success overseas, particularly for a recent Australian film, ranging from standing ovations during the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004 to sold out shows in places as far out as Moscow, Russia. If this is a sign for tings to come as far as Australian cinema is concerned then fear not its future is most certainly secured.
The film's MySpace page:
Somersault's Soundtrack at Amazon:
3. Rough Sex
6. Music Box
7. More Than Scarlet
8. Siesta Inn
9. You're Hot
10. Higher Higher
11. Alpine Way
12. Naked Snow
13. Electrocution [Hydro Mix]
14. Heidi's Theme (Reprise)
15. Somersault (Score)
In 2005 Somersault won the Award of Distinction (Robert Humphreys) granted by the Australian Cinematographers Society. During the same year the film won the ASDA Film Award for Best Direction of a First Feature Film (Cate Shortland) granted by the Australian Screen Directors' Association. In 2004 the film won the Awgie Award for Best Feature Film-Original Story (Cate Shortland) and the Major Ward Award granted by the Australian Writers' Guild.
How Does the DVD Look?
I do NOT like what I see here!! Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, not in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and enhanced for widescreen TV's the film offers an impressive degree of detail, great color reproduction, and a superb degree of contrast. The print is free of any damage/scratches/dots. Unfortunately it appears that what Magnolia Pictures have provided here is a non-progressive print which during selected scenes reveals minor to serious "combing". I am quite unsure why Somersault has received such a treatment as just about everything else here is of top-notch quality. I think that many will be utterly disappointed by this occurrence (most certainly those with high-end equipments) and particularly those with region-free players will likely look at acquiring either the British or Aussie releases of the film. It is a shame really as everything else Magnolia Pictures have sent my way has been of extremely high quality and this fiasco happens with Somersault-a film I wanted to have on a NTSC disc. This being said I am also concerned by the fact that the company might be catering to the new high-tech PAN-SCAN trend: cropping films to 1.78:1 so that they could "fill-up" 16:9 TV screens. This is clearly not what the DVD medium was created to serve. Plain and Simple!!
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an Australian 2.0 and 5.1 tracks Somersault sounds exceptionally well. The audio is crisp and clear and the 5.1 track offers great rear channels activity. The music by Decoder Ring comes off the speakers in an impressive fashion and I could not detect anything that you might be concerned with while enjoying the film. This being said I find it strange that Magnolia have chosen not to provide the film with optional English subtitles-what you get here is only optional Spanish subs. While I did not have any problems handling the at times edgy Aussie accents some viewers I am convinced might have benefited from the inclusion of English subtitles (particularly with Welsh, Scottish, Irish, South African, and Australian dialogs English subtitles are always recommended).
In terms of extras what you will find here is: "Inside the Snowdome: Making Somersault" which attempts to shed some light on the filming process as well as the locations used in the film, particularly New South Wales. Next there is a large gallery of deleted scenes where the viewer is given the option of seeing these either with or without a commentary by Cate Shortland. I do not wish to comment specifically on these scenes as most of them are rather short and in my opinion do not contribute substantially to the story. It is commendable however that they have been provided on this DVD. Next, "Shooting Somersault: On Location Interview with Robert Humphreys, ACS, Director of Photography"- this is in my opinion the best piece of supplemental material on this DVD set as what the viewer is provided is plenty of information pertaining to the filming techniques used in this project, how the story came to exist, some short comments by the crew members, specific comments on the use of light/color in the film, as well as a revealing look at the locations where Somersault was shot.
I am glad to see that Somersault finally made it to the US yet I am quite disappointed with this DVD particularly due to the fact that it comes from Magnolia Pictures-a company that has been so impressive with its releases up to this point. I don't know how else to describe the fact that the film has been cropped to 1.78:1 other than as an alarming occurrence, especially when ALL other overseas releases of Somersault have preserved the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Furthermore, the "combing" I mentioned in the review is also something that does not sit well with me (and I am sure others). To sum it all up I waited for this R1 NTSC release, intentionally avoiding the R2 and R4 discs, and having seen it I am now motivated to seek and immediately review either one of the non-R1 discs (and compare) for DVDTALK. For those of you that are not region-free the R1 DVD of Somersault comes highly recommended as the film is not to be missed. And for those of you that are region-free: you know what to do!