Away from home


The choice to market the Australian coming-of-age drama Somersault as a tale of “sexual awakening” is an odd if understandable one. All the visual cues are present: the painting of toenails, the slow-motion sipping from water fountains, and the sexy dancing in pantyhose and cotton undies. But so is the undeniable fact that the protagonist, 16-year-old Heidi (Abbie Cornish), is already quite awake at the film’s start. By the second scene she’s making out with her mother’s boyfriend, and by the third she’s run away, certain her mother will never forgive her. She chooses her destination, a ski-resort town, based on the carelessly issued invitation of a former lover who claims not to know her when she arrives.

It’s to the film’s credit that no magical answers or unusually benevolent strangers appear for Heidi at this point. She is truly on her own, and much of the story’s pathos comes from her attempt to never admit, even to herself, quite how desperate things are. The unfolding tale is told in crisp winter colors deliberately punctuated with bright red elements—gloves, chili sauce and nightclub lighting—that lend a visual rhythm to the chill of Heidi’s isolation and her desperate lunges for intimacy and warmth.

The film, out last week on DVD, won an unprecedented 13 Australian Film Institute Awards and earned its virtually unknown star major roles in upcoming features with Heath Ledger and Russell Crowe. Australian writer and director Cate Shortland based the story on her work at a home for troubled teens and demonstrates a rare ability to explore adolescent sexuality without turning her subjects into victims or delving into titillation. Perhaps the film’s marketers could take a lesson from her.