John, a loner living in outback Queensland discovers a battered and bruised woman, Tahmeena, near his home. She can't speak any English but is able to communicate that she's from Afghanistan. Protecting Tahmeena from those she's escaped from, John provides sanctuary and teaches her English. A local publican and cop soon come looking for Tahmeena.
This absorbing, suspense-filled drama deservedly won six AFI awards last year, including gongs for leads William McInnes and Monic Hendrickx, admittedly in yet another year of depressingly thin competition.
The first feature from writer-director Peter Duncan since his disappointing Passion in 1999, Unfinished Sky ran for 16 weeks in Aussie cinemas but wound up grossing a bit less than $1 million. So the DVD release will hopefully introduce the movie to a wider audience.
Duncan’s screenplay was adapted from the 1998 Dutch pic The Polish Bride, which was Hendrickx’s first starring role in her native country. She is wonderful as Tahmeena, a dark-haired beauty who, bruised and bloodied, staggers onto the farm owned by reclusive widower John Woldring (McInnes) and collapses. He carries her inside, while we learn through grainy flashbacks she has been brutally assaulted.
She speaks no English and is clearly traumatized. John initially resents this intrusion into his cloistered, albeit cheerless world, but gradually pieces together her story: she’s an Afghani refugee who’s in Australia to search for her daughter after her father and husband were murdered by the Taliban. John begins to suspect the local hotelier Bob (Bille Brown) and his son Mike (Christopher Sommers) are involved in the assault, and tries to shield her from suspicious cop Carl (David Field).
McInnes and Hendrickx spark off each other beautifully as lost souls who slowly form a bond, while Duncan keeps the plot twisting and turning in surprising directions. Some may quibble with the contrived climax which strains credulity, but overall this is an intelligent, finely-crafted psychological drama-cum-thriller.
The title refers to an unfinished jigsaw on John’s table, a metaphor for the puzzle which envelops the lead characters. Ample extras include deleted scenes, illuminating interviews with cast and crew, the trailer and storyboards.
Talented Australian writer-director Peter Duncan’s latest effort, Unfinished Sky, is an impressive film. Based on a successful Dutch film, The Polish Bride, Duncan cleverly adapts it to appeal to an Australian audience.
John Woldring lives an isolated, lonely existence on his farm; ever since his wife died 6 years ago, under mysterious circumstances.
Early one morning his isolation is interrupted by the appearance of a battered Afghani woman wearing nothing but a yellow rain coat. Fearing for her life, John takes in the badly beaten woman, who doesn’t speak a word of English. It is a decision that sets off a dramatic chain of events.
I thoroughly engaged with Unfinished Sky from beginning to end. Duncan’s direction is clear and tight, and his screenplay, which is essentially a love story, is cleverly underpinned by tension and moral dilemma.
By making Tahmeena an illegal immigrant, Duncan is able to draw parallels between her physical existence and John’s psychological state; parallels that understandably lead to empathy.
William McInnes gets under the skin of the angry, suffering John Woldring to deliver a performance of depth and vulnerability. He is so, so good.
Which is just as well, because he’s pitted against Monic Hendrickx who is considered one of Holland’s greatest talents and it is easy to see why. Her Dari accent and presence was faultless. I completely believed she was Afghani.
David Field and Bille Brown also add great weight to the cast.
Apart from a slight chunkiness towards the climax, Unfinished Sky is an entertaining, enjoyable watch. It offers a delicate insight into love and trust; suggesting it is possible to transcend cultural barriers.
Shot beautifully, with brilliant performances, this film is a pleasure to watch 3.5 stars.