The layers of emotional complexity in Strangerland director Kim Farrant’s movies make a lot of sense when you know how she grew up. Her father was a shrink who swore by Primal Scream therapy, building a red padded room in which Farrant let loose from a very young age. “It was amazing, and intense, and then my mum wanted to move out of the primal realm, which is very much about pain, and into more joy and happiness.”
That pushed her mum, a counsellor, towards the teachings of Rajneesh and Wild Wild Country territory. “They separated, but stayed living under one roof, so we had duelling gurus,” she chuckles. “At the dinner table they’d ask how my day was and I’d say, ‘I fell over’, and they’d be like, ‘what was behind that feeling?’”
Farrant’s fascination with the internal workings of the mind, and with the unvarnished expression of intense grief, appealed to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Prometheus star Noomi Rapace. She takes the lead role in Farrant’s sophomore feature Angel of Mine, which debuted at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival.
Shot over five and a half weeks, with ten days’ rehearsal, Rapace plays Lizzie (not Salander, although there is a sly nod to the Millennium Trilogy). A mother still grieving the death of her newborn daughter in a hospital fire seven years before, she becomes fixated on an uncanny likeness with the seven-year-old daughter of Claire (The Handmaid’s Tale’s Yvonne Strahovski), another woman at her son’s school. Penned by Oscar-nominated Lion scribe Luke Davies, alongside David Regal, the women are drawn into a psychologically thrilling duel, a sort of thinking person’s update on ’90s hits like Fatal Attraction and Single White Female.
“We worked on sense memory, where you conjure a memory from their own life that parallels with what the character is going through, then just before we go into a take, I’d evoke that memory by whispering questions into her ear,” Farrant tells me about their detailed preparation when we meet at Melbourne’s Sofitel. “Noomi was so open and up for a new way of collaborating, so I basically told her some deep truths about myself and why I related to these characters.”
They went deep together. “I said to her, ‘I want you to feel like you can unravel, but I am the container in which you can unravel in, so you can feel safe’.”
It’s part of who Farrant is, as a person and as a filmmaker. “I’m not scared of the deep dark in you. Of your pain or rage or your ugly feelings. Of being unlovable, unforgivable, too needy or too desperate. I think Noomi felt safe enough to be seen in all of her shit.”
The same was true of Nicole Kidman’s distraught mother searching for her missing children in Strangerland, sexualising her grief and unravelling spectacularly. Two amazing moments stand out from that searing debut. The first saw Kidman erupting on a clifftop. “It was at the end of a ten-hour day, the light was failing we were all exhausted in 40-degree heat,” Farrant recalls, “I said to Nicole, ‘I want you to do this for all the women out there who have been oppressed for thousands of years,’ and she kind of rose up like this massive beast of dire, desperate grief. It was extraordinary.”
The second was Kidman’s full frontal nudity as her character collapses in disconsolate disarray. Farrant had undressed behind and in front of the camera while filming six people worldwide unrobed in documentary Naked on the Inside. In the end, she did the same for Kidman. “She started saying, ‘oh my god, oh my god, thank you so much,’ so it made her feel safe. At the end of the day it’s a body. She’s a body. We’ve all got these bodies. No matter how many films you’ve done, and she was up to about 60 at that point, it’s a vulnerable place to be.”
Joseph Fiennes, Kidman’s co-star in Strangerland, helped Farrant sign up Strahovski for Angel of Mine. I joke that Rapace will be calling their Handmaid’s colleague Ann Dowd next. “I’d love to work with Ann,” she laughs. “Joe put in a really beautiful word for me, so I was lucky. I was following Yvonne on Handmaid’s and thought she was incredible, but I did not know she was Australian. Her accent is that good.”
The increasingly fraught tussle between Lizzie and Claire is riveting, with Luke Evans and Richard Roxburgh also brilliant in smaller roles as their partners. Noomi, in particular, is remarkable. “In a way, the film is an ode to all the dark, messy feelings when life sideswipes you, what most of society deems very uncomfortable to be around,” Farrant says. “We have very few rituals left in Western society where we acknowledge and honour grief and let it have its course. Something in me rails against that.”
Angel of Mine is in cinemas from 5 September 2019.
Marcela’s world becomes strange and unfamiliar after her sister Rina dies. She feels lost in her own house, and her relationship with her husband and children seems to suffer. But when Nacho, a young friend of her daughter’s, unexpectedly drops by, she starts to talk and walk with him. Gradually Marcela begins to have conversations with relatives from another dimension.