Film, Go To

GO-TO: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) dir. Peter Weir

2/15-2/16 @ Brattle


I’ve always loved the unknowable sense of otherworldliness Peter Weir inserts in Pinic at Hanging Rock. The film is a period piece based on pre-existing work, but it feels like an original idea and really could take place anytime. Australia has such a life and a mystery that makes the film linger with me. The disappearance has a fatalistic quality (more than the following investigation); it wasn’t a matter of how the girls would go missing, but when. Weir doesn’t direct this to have the feel of gothic horror, yet the environment and naturalistic performances lend themselves to being genreless. Even with the movie being split into two halves– the disappearance and the investigation– there’s a feeling of how girls are just swept up in the wind like a pile of leaves. 

The directness of the mystery– a group of schoolgirls attending Appleyard college go missing when visiting Hanging Rock on Valentine’s Day– lends to our belief in the mood. I believe it’s so timeless and unsettling for the unpredictability of the unexplained disappearance, crucially set in broad daylight. Miranda is one of the wiser of the students, yet is still susceptible to dangers that she can’t see. It’s not a matter of age or maturity of any of the girls being spared, but rather that their homeland is telling them they’re not allowed at Hanging Rock. Without something definitive like a natural disaster, the girls are left with an investigation that leads nowhere. I’ve never been curious– in fact I’m even relieved  that we don’t know what happened to the group of students, as it makes for such an unsettling and mystifying parable: they were somewhere they shouldn’t have been, and as a result they were removed by a force of nature. 

I love revisiting what Weir, Nicolas Roeg, George Miller, Gillian Armstrong and others did within the Australian New Wave. There’s this raw, mythic quality in these films, combined with a deep connection to the material, that make this era so distinct. The vastness of the Outback is so deeply felt and unknowable throughout its many depictions, and these filmmakers created a voice to say something about Australia’s enigmatic beauty while pioneering the visual language to do so. Along with Picnic at Hanging Rock, Walkabout, Mad Max, and My Brilliant Career have all become so influential within filmmakers’ ability to blend textual relationships between their characters and sense of place. Even then, it’s invisibly influential; there’s an easy line to be drawn between Picnic and The Virgin Suicides, and Mad Max anticipated the low budget feel of early Robert Rodriguez, yet I’ve never felt this era was as overly analyzed as other filmmaking movements from various countries we saw before and since. And for the better. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock
dir. Peter Weir
112 min.

Screening Wednesday, 2/15 and Thursday, 2/16 @ Brattle Theatre – click here for showtimes and ticket info
New digital restoration!

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