We know it can be overwhelming to choose a movie from the 900+ now streaming at SBS On Demand. In this new series, we suggest movies best watched back-to-back (i.e. 'Watch this, then that').
Adapting well known novels into films is tough. It’s harder when the books are based on true stories because screenwriters and directors must wrestle with the acceptable level of artistic licence to take with someone’s life. Joe Cinque's Consolation and Holding the Man have the difficult task of depicting stories about love and tragedy while remaining respectful of the living and the dead.
Holding the Man takes an intimate, biopic-style approach to its tale of two gay men growing up and falling in love in Australia. Joe Cinque's Consolation takes a different tack by having the audience witness one of Australia’s most shocking murder cases to explore what happens when people don’t intervene in a destructive relationship. Both films take care with their subjects while managing the balancing act of bringing stories from life to page to screen.
In 1997, Anu Singh, a law student at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, killed her boyfriend, Joe Cinque, with a lethal dose of heroin after drugging him at a dinner party. Many of Singh’s friends knew of her plan but didn’t bother to stop her. The film is based on Helen Garner’s bestselling novel, Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law. The film borrows the book’s title but does away with Garner’s perspective as a journalist covering the murder trial, reacting to the miscarriage of justice and coming to terms with what led to the death of Joe Cinque (Garner was not involved in the making of the film).
Instead, the film focuses on Singh (Maggie Naouri) and her relationship with Cinque (Jerome Meyer) from the moment they meet to the horrific end. As Singh’s mental health deteriorates, she becomes self-destructive. She manipulates her friends to assist with her suicide pact with Joe – a completely one-sided plan of Singh’s orchestration. To its detriment, Joe Cinque's Consolation spends too much time empathising with Singh, even though Naorui’s performance is outstanding, but it’s still a chilling portrait of inaction as none of her friends think what’s happening is a bad idea.
Joe Cinque's Consolation has a strong sense of foreboding and Canberra has never looked this good on film thanks to the cinematography of Simon Chapman. The Australian capital is haunting; it’s hiding a dark secret. The film captures a terrible chain of events that lead to the senseless death of a promising young man. The question of why will linger in your mind long after.
Watch 'Joe Cinque's Consolation' at SBS On Demand
Holding the Man is based on the memoir of the same name by Timothy Conigrave about his 15-year relationship with his husband, John Caleo. The pair met at a private school in Melbourne in the 1970s, fell in love and spent nearly two decades together enduring separation, condemnation, sickness and ultimately death. The autobiography, first published in 1995, was adapted by Tommy Murphy into a successful play in 2006, and then made the leap to film in 2015 with Murphy on scripting duties.
The film is bookended with Conigrave (Ryan Corr) holidaying in Italy remembering his time with Caleo (Craig Stott). The story hops backwards and forwards in time, crafting an intimate portrait of two gay men engaged in a passionate relationship with the backdrop of a conservative political climate in Australia and the rise of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and '90s. The film is bound by romance and lust – an important depiction as many mainstream queer stories neglect the sex lives of their lovers. Corr and Stott give stunning performances, and the supporting cast boasts Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Sarah Snook, Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox. Like the intent of the memoir, Holding the Man exists to ensure queer Australian stories aren’t forgotten. It’s the cinematic equivalent of carving "Tim and John were here" into a tree.
Watch 'Holding the Man' at SBS On Demand