EIFF 2009: Van Diemen's Land

Film Review by James Campbell | 25 Jun 2009
  • Van Diemen's Land
Film title: Van Diemen's Land
Director: Jonathan auf der Heide
Starring: Oscar Redding, Jason Glover, Thomas Wright, Paul Ashcroft, Arthur Angel, Mark Winter
Release date: TBC
Certificate: TBC

Van Diemen's Land is a formidable debut from Australian director Jonathan Auf Der Heide. This is the glacial true story of Alexander Pearce (played by thespian co-writer Oscar Redding). In 1822, along with seven other English, Irish and Scottish men, Pearce escapes from the penal colony at Macquarie Harbour, only to discover the even harsher climes of Western Tasmania's wilderness. Soaked, frozen and starved, when supplies run out the men are driven beyond despair. Lush, atmospheric cinematography paints the forest as a static and impenetrable canvas, through which the escapees tear. Fighting the indifference of nature, these men turn their violence inward. The film recalls Heart of Darkness with its descent into the sociopathic potential of human nature. There is an unconventional structure, whose pace grinds down as desperate hunger and desensitisation are compounded. Despite a growing sense of unease, this fails to generate a much needed tension. Cool direction keeps characters at arm's length, and it takes too long for personalities to develop sinew. But an ensemble of nuanced, foreboding performances make for compelling (if gruesome) viewing.

Showing as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009.