Peter Weir! One of Australia's premier film directors, the man behind numerous classic films. He made the creepily obtuse "Picnic At Hanging Rock." He's also responsible for the depressing World War I flick "Gallipoli," the equally bleak "The Year of Living Dangerously," and the Robin Williams drama "Dead Poets Society." Weir worked with Harrison Ford on "Witness" and "The Mosquito Coast." He made the highly successful romantic comedy "Green Card" in 1990, the intriguing "Fearless" after that, and followed up with "The Truman Show" and "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." Wow! That's a heckuva filmography! In other words, he helped Mel Gibson find greater exposure in America, assisted Harrison Ford's transition from "Star Wars" to more serious roles, and tried to break Jim Carrey out of his comedic rut. Not bad considering he largely succeeded in all of these endeavors. Mel Gibson is huge here, Harrison Ford makes big buck dramas every year or so, and Jim Carrey has successfully expanded his repertoire to include Oscar worthy films. It's hard to believe Weir's career started with movies like "The Cars That Ate Paris" and "The Plumber." What's that? You haven't heard of these two films? Well, here they are on DVD.
I'm not surprised in the least to learn that "The Cars That Ate Paris" never achieved much success. Why? Because the movie gives a new meaning to the term "odd". It's the story about an unemployed sad sack named Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri) and a pal who set off across the Australian countryside in search of work. Weirdness arrives shortly after a car accident right outside of the village of Paris injures Waldo and kills his pal. For some reason never adequately explained, the elders work hard to keep Arthur from leaving town. They also spend an enormous amount of time discussing plans to turn the village into a highly developed community that will draw in people and money. The other citizens of Paris, the kids, roar around town all day in souped up jalopies--some with spikes and other nasty accoutrements attached to the vehicles--terrorizing everyone. The kids knock down fences, drive through yards, and generally instill in the small town a palpable sense of dread. Adults fear the youths, but they also need them to make a bit of money on the side. The two generations work together for a common purpose, but it's a purpose that eventually leads to catastrophe.
"The Plumber" also assays a social conflict, but this time we're dealing with the subject of gender and class. Set largely in a claustrophobia inducing apartment high-rise, a couple living in one of the units experiences a most unusual encounter when a defective bathroom necessitates a call for a plumber. Specifically, Jill Cowper (Judy Morris) is the one who must deal with Max (Ivor Kants), a shaggy looking working class gent with the demeanor of a pub crawler. Jill, an educated anthropologist attempting to finish her thesis, at first tries to treat Max with kindness. She offers to provide food and drink for him, and lets him work with little supervision. Unfortunately, Max likes to chat up Jill and make tons of noise rather than do the job. Tension gradually builds up, especially when Jill's research scientist husband (Robert Coleby) doesn't believe his wife's nitpicking about the plumber's work. As for Max, he seems like he's dragging the job out just to get at Jill. It's hard not to think this considering the bathroom eventually looks like a hurricane hit it, with holes and pipes all over the place. What starts out as an innocuous film turns into something far more sinister. The conclusion is awesome.
I'm not going to talk much about "The Cars That Ate Paris." It's a strange movie that, while worth watching once, isn't a great movie. Even Weir admits the picture isn't his best effort. "The Plumber," on the other hand, is brilliant filmmaking. There are so many subtexts going on, and Weir holds his cards about what's really happening so close to his vest, that even subsequent viewings raise more questions than answers. What's the significance of Jill's thesis about aborigines in the context of her confrontations with Max? For that matter, who is Max? Is he really a plumber? Or is he a nutcase who likes posing as one in order to torment higher-class people? Why does Jill act the way she does? Is she a snob? Or is she acting out as a form of rebellion to garner attention from her busy husband? The conclusion works so well because, as Weir mentions in an interview included as an extra on the disc, the film makes the viewer root for either Max or Jill. Who you support speaks volumes about where you see yourself on the social ladder. Throw in on top of these thought provoking questions the claustrophobic atmosphere and wonderful performances from Morris and Kants, and I think you'll come to agree that "The Plumber" is well worth a watch.
Extras on the disc include trailers and the aforementioned interviews with Weir. These talks serve as a sort of mini-commentary for both films in which he discusses how he came to make the movies, financing, distribution, and public reaction. It's interesting to note that "The Plumber" ended up playing on Aussie television where it subsequently became a big hit. I don't doubt it. I still think about the movie from time to time, long after I watched it, and that speaks well for the quality of the picture. Of course, I also think about the abject weirdness of "The Cars That Ate Paris" on occasion, too. Let's just say that both films will pique any moviegoers' interest. I'll give the disc four stars, a safe middle ground between "Cars" and "The Plumber."