Directed by Martin Simpson | Review by Prarthana MitraA rather interesting essay on the internet titled Thanatos and Eros in the cinema of violence caught my eye the other day. Among other things, I remember the author passionately talking about themes and the interrelatedness of life, fear and death—both in cinema and in reality.
The next day I watched Indigo Lake, a gritty nail-biting neo-noir, written and directed by Martin Simpson, where the central female character quotes Picasso at one point, rueing— “A good painting should be bristling with razor blades.”
In more ways than one, Indigo Lake is your typical romantic thriller. The scope of its narrative deals with a damsel in distress, torn between a reprehensible antagonist she has sworn allegiance to, and the knight in shining armor she is fatally attracted to. There is a lot of sex, intrigue, violence and conspiracies, as Simpson tips his hat to the archetypes and tropes borrowed of the cult neo-noir classics.
Amidst all the murder, mayhem and moral dilemma, however, every minute of Indigo Lake stands out from its contemporaries, and every frame speaks a thousand words. Indigo Lake stands proudly on the banks of its creative, stylistic and technical finesse, flanked by terrific performances from lead cast comprising Andrew Cutcliffe, Miranda O’Hare and Marin Mimica.
The film is set in Sydney, Australia and ambles in and around the world of its three main characters— Jack Zappa, a gifted and celebrated painter tormented by his past, Bill Kazak, a nightclub owner with shady underworld connections and the pulchritudinous Ruby who has her own skeletons in her closet. The three are hurled into each other’s worlds and they get inextricably involved when Kazak commissions the blue-eyed Zappa to paint a portrait of his wife, Ruby.
Mesmerized by her vivacious beauty and struck by his charm, the painter and his muse embark on a love that was doomed from the start. Along with the viewers, these star-crossed lovers begin to learn things about each other that only draw them closer. We find out that Zappa (played by Cutcliffe) had killed his own father to save his mother from abuse, only to find himself now in love with a married woman, who is also subject to systematic abuse by her husband.
Kazak’s character is quite interesting because he claims to love Ruby, who used to be an escort when they first met, but all we see are his tyranny, oppression, physical brutality and mental torture. He is also involved in dealing drugs and is being tailed by the feds, which raises the stakes even higher for him. But even when a security detail hands him the proof of Ruby’s adultery and offers to eliminate “a loose cannon”, Kazak refuses to kill her.
In the meantime, Ruby keeps her appointment with Jack in his artist’s loft, and as they grow intimate and exchange quick banter, she perceives his brooding loneliness and he is immediately taken in by her worldly wisdom, her sadness and gloom, and paints a magnificent painting featuring the scars of abuse on her back. Bill comes down harder on the two, now that he has an inkling of what the two might be up to.
Torn at first between slow death with a husband she never loved and the chance to chase a real life with Jack, Ruby hesitates but finally resolves to teach Bill a lesson, even plotting to poison him. In a dramatic turn of events, that plan leads them to Indigo Lake as viewers wait with bated breath to find out if the lovers live happily ever after or fatal consequences await them.
Despite all the unscrupulous violence and name-calling, the drama unfolding on a psychological level is the film’s real MVP. The power-packed poetic precision of the dialogues plays a crucial role in terms of vivid and effective characterization. In terms of tone, color, production and atmosphere, the film does an exemplary job of maintaining the tension which is palpable throughout the film.
Every time Jack and Ruby transgress one of Zappa’s directives, Sam Weiss’ background score reaches a dirge-like crescendo, filling the film with fatalism. The cinematography is perfectly in sync with the noir, and Rodrigo Vidal Dawson makes use of wide shots, long takes and superimpositions quite generously. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one spectacular edit when Ruby turns around and Jack makes a note of the twinkle in her eye on the canvas. At that moment, the reality becomes a dream.
Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.