Light, impressionistic and ethereal, the Australian film Somersault steadily grows on the viewer. Very much reminiscent of this maverick and new wave genre of Australian movie making, in Somersault meaning comes from the very modest and a lot happens when very little is being said. It's where a teenage girl sets off on a sexual and moral coming-of-age odyssey that resonates with remarkable truth and purity.
The lovely sixteen-yea-old Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is a bit of a femme fatale. She knows men are attracted to her and she realizes pretty early on that she can probably get whatever she wants from them. After getting caught making out with her Mum's hunky young boyfriend, this lonely and wraithlike girl drifts up to Jindabyne in the Australian Alps of New South Wales.
Constantly yearning for male attention, her striking blond looks make her an easy target for the horny, vacationing boys - they don't hesitate to take advantage of her. She's also a bit of a party girl and thinks nothing of getting drunk and stoned at the local hangouts. As she tries to find employment - she eventually gets a job working the counter in a service station - she catches the eye of Joe (a terrific Sam Worthington), the son of wealthy landowners.
Joe is handsome and likeable enough, although he's very uptight and remains non-committal. At first, he appears to be in it for thrill of sleeping with an underage girl, but his initial hesitancy masks a deep-seated self-loathing, and certain confusion over his sexuality. As much as Heidi needs him, Joe's just too insecure to return her feelings.
Of course, this is a world of entrenched snobbery where the sons and daughters of the wealthy landowners look down on working class girls like Heidi. At only sixteen Heidi gradually discovers that her slutty behavior and limited employment prospects condemn her to the bottom rungs of this picturesque Jindabyne's social ladder. Even the maternal motel owner Irene (a fabulous Lynette Curran) who takes Heidi under her wing, has her patience tried by the unruly and irresponsible girl.
Somersault with its arty, indistinct photography and it's otherworldly atmosphere, is very much a portrait of two troubled souls searching for love and respect, but director Cate Shortland is talented enough to show that there isn't an easy way out for this couple. As Heidi drifts through life, keeping a diary and looking at the world almost through a childlike sensibility, Shortland is totally adept at delicately capturing Heidi's lovelorn world.
Alternating between glacial, pastel landscapes and burnt-ochre interiors, Summersault is a disturbing portrait of a young girl somewhat at a loss and Cornish's astonishingly empathic performance always stays directly connected to Heidi's troubled soul. Her desire actually seems to protect her from the consequences of some very dire situations. Worthington is also terrific as Joe, with his need to connect with Heidi and his somewhat opaque sexual ambivalence constantly keeping us guessing.
Summersault is an accomplished film, another gritty and edgy slice of Australian life - although the film is at times brutal to watch. Heidi's very presence in this small resort town often seems to make adults uncomfortable and boys cruel. The sense that there is nothing Heidi can do to escape her looks, class and circumstances. Mike Leonard July 06.