Absent all pressure and societal rules, human touch is on the same level as the softness of the breeze, the warmth of the water and the beauty of the landscape.

SIRENS

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Sirens" is another variation on a surefire premise: willing transformation. This time out, the Bishop of Sydney, outraged by the blasphemous paintings of Australian painter Norman Lindsay, sends the newly minted Rev. Anthony Campion (Hugh Grant) and his naive young wife Estella (Tara Fitzgerald) to the remote Blue Mountains to talk some sense into the artist.

The proper young Campions, calling each other Pooh (she) and Piglet (he), travel by ship, train and pickup to some of Australia's most glorious scenery. It would take that kind of effort, after all, to reach the end of the world. There, they find Lindsay, his wife and models living in a kind of "beyond Bohemia." Three of them are statuesque beauties who float through life in various shades of nakedness, trailing diaphanous cloth; one is a blind man who also is usually naked or about to be; and all of them are in pleasant stages of languid attraction. It is far more sensual than sexual. Absent all pressure and societal rules, human touch is on the same level as the softness of the breeze, the warmth of the water and the beauty of the landscape.

The spell settles slowly over the prim Estella, who lets the sensuality of texture and touch engulf her. Tony is a harder sell. Stunned by his wife's embrace of otherworldly pleasure, he brings a new ardor to his efforts to best Norman in dinner-table arguments about the sacred and profane aspects of art. Much of Tony's charm is that his traditionalism is rooted in an intellectual open-mindedness of which he is very proud. But what's happening all around him in this exotic sweet spot is too bewildering to comprehend. It's tough to cast a spell over a man who takes Spengler's "Decline of the West" to the loo.

The odd part of all this is that Norman, whose work is the cause and structure of the tale, is a passive figure who occupies the fringes of all he has created. But perhaps that's the secret to this fairy tale. He works from his models, detached and professional always, without imposing his ego or control. They simply drift in and out of his studio to pose and then return to their tropical languor.

Hugh Grant brings his abundant comic humanity to Tony; Sam Neill is suitably enigmatic as Norman; and Tara Fitzgerald handles her sublime transition with grace. The supporting nudes, male and female, are terrific in keeping this a fantasy. The other major player is the rural Australian culture with its sensual games, unfamiliar animals and redneck pub life.

The movie is a vision of life touched by a magic that releases us from purity and constraint, dresses us in clouds of white cloth and lets us sway back and forth on a rope swing on a summer midnight. It's a pretty good way to spend a cold April evening in America.


Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 493
Studio: Miramax
Rating: R


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