Saturday 31 October 2020

Movie Review: Winter Of Our Dreams (1981)

An ardent drama, Winter Of Our Dreams chases flickers of hope fading into the dark corners of the soul. The grim tones are amplified by unsentimental realism.

Suffering from depression, 30 year-old aspiring folk singer-songwriter Lisa Blain commits suicide. In her final hours she tries but fails to reconnect with bookshop owner Rob (Bryan Brown), a friend from her happier college days, and gifts her guitar to her only friend, prostitute Lou (Judy Davis).

Rob is living in an open marriage with his wife Gretel (Cathy Downes). He hears about Lisa's suicide and starts to explore her life with the intention of writing an article. He connects with Lou and they establish a friendship of sorts. Lou is reading Lisa's diary and knows how much Rob meant to her during their days of idealistic activism, although Ron downplays the relationship. Lou is drawn to Rob, tracing Lisa's infatuation.

Set in Sidney, Winter Of Our Dreams explores the slow decay of dreams towards death. Australian writer and director John Duigan commits to an uncompromising tone, humour and happiness all but banished from the life of his characters. The film is uneven, sometimes slow even within the 89 minutes of running time, and starts to re-plough the same terrain in its second half. But the sense of despair coupled with authenticity carries undeniable impact.

With Lisa's suicide underpinning the narrative, Winter Of Our Dreams starts with Rob seeking to understand how his former friend plummeted from the heady days of college and political protests to taking her own life. But midway, Duigan transitions to Lou's perspective as the glare of her increasingly dead-end life grows stronger. The hand-off between the two characters shortchanges the investment in Rob, as he spends the second half of the film stranded in inert emotional space.

Judy Davis is in scintillating form and animates Lou as the woman spiralling into drug-addiction and prostitution, Lisa's fate now a warning sign along a dangerous path. Rob's appearance offers an unexpected avenue for potential escape, and the final third focuses on the contrast between her filthy almost-living-on-the-street reality and his suburban bliss. Rob's nonchalant openness places vague salvation tantalizingly within Lou's reach, but while she embraces the nose-against-the-window opportunity to escape her wannabe boyfriend and drug supplier, Lisa's diary is also a warning about mismatched expectations.

Winter Of Our Dreams is a bleak experience, primitive urban survival gasping for breath against the crushing weight of dimming expectations.

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