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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Sirens

Starring: Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald
Director: John Duigan
Rated: R
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: March 1994
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Sam Neill, Elle MacPherson, Portia De Rossi, Kate Fischer, Pamela Rabe, Ben Mendelsohn, John Polson, Mark Gerber, Julia Stone

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

The author of this review, same as any other heterosexual male, doesn't mind seeing beautiful women in the state of partial of complete undress. However, when such sights are appearing in the movies, enjoyment of these particular scenes is sometimes spoiled when it becomes obvious that they don't make any sense apart from pleasing male audience. Movies with non-exploitative nudity seldom appear and even rarer are those where nudity itself becomes one of the main elements without which the film wouldn't make any sense. One of such examples is SIRENS, Australian comedy directed in 1994 by John Duigan.

The plot of the film is inspired by the incident in the biography of Norman Lindsay (played by Sam Neill), 20th Century Australian artist who gained controversial reputation by challenging moral standards of the time by using explicitly erotic images in his paintings. In 1930 one of such paintings, "Crucified Venus", is about to be exhibited in Sydney. Anglican Church authorities view the painting as too blasphemous for public exhibition and young Rev. Anthony Campion (played by Hugh Grant), who had just arrived from England, is sent to visit Lindsay at his estate in Australian Blue Mountains and try to talk him over from displaying the controversial image in public. When Campion, accompanied by his young wife Estella (played by Tara Fitzgerald), arrives to Lindsay's home, he would find the artist, his wife and two children living together with three young beautiful girls that serve as models. Soon it becomes obvious that Lindsay won't change his mind, but the train derailment forces Campions to prolong their stay at Lindsay's home. During that time, in a hedonistic and carefree atmosphere of the estate surrounded by enchantingly beautiful Australian landscape, both Anthony and Estella experience events that would start changing their views on love, marriage and sexuality.

Many critics were tempted to view SIRENS as nothing more than soft core pornography wrapped in the package of "serious" film. At first glance, those critics might have a point - the plot is weak or almost non-existent and in many instances the conflict between sexuality and conventional morality is illustrated with rather predictable situations and gags, recycled from Bocaccio, D.H. Lawrence or even West European "sex comedies" of 1970s. But Duigan justifies that with the great sense of style and generally humanistic approach to the story and characters. SIRENS doesn't feature any sort of villains - even the conservatives, who are supposed to be adversaries to Lindsay and his liberal views, are presented as misguided but generally nice folks - Church uses diplomacy instead of trying to force its way, and Lindsay's redneck neighbours compensate their bigotry with common-sense approach to life and manliness of their local boys. The humour in the film seems incredibly restrained and decent, at least compared with average Hollywood films that would tackle sexuality as one of its subjects.

The two best known actors of the film - Sam Neill and Hugh Grant - are something of a disappointment in this film. Neill barely appears in the film, except in the scenes in which his character fights ideological wars with the priest, while Grant plays the same character he had played in dozens of 1990s films. The pleasant surprise of this film are actresses. The best known of them is fashion supermodel Elle Fitzgerald. This was her first major role and she gained extra pounds in order to give Rubenesque proportion to her figure and thus her character physically resembling the beauty standards of 1930s. The acting job in the role of mischievous model Sheela was perhaps not as impressive, but it was more than decent as far beyond the accomplishments of other supermodels that tried acting. Portia de Rossi was also good in the role of Giddy, the most naive and the least "corrupted" of all three models. But the greatest acting asset of the film was Tara Fitzgerald, who again appeared with Hugh Grant one year later in THE ENGLISHMAN WHO WENT UP THE HILL AND CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. Here Fitzgerald presented a lot of her acting talent, as well as her body. Her figure, that seems so small compared to voluptuous figures of Macpherson and Kate Fischer (who played Pru, model who embraced Communist ideology), is used by Duigan as a tool of character development - final liberation of that character comes when Estella starts seeing that body as equal to the models. The last shot of the film neatly combines the beauty of Fitzgerald, Macpherson and other ladies with the beauty of Australian landscape. Duigan had the eye for such pretty sights, and he also utilised Lindsay's real life home as authentic location. In some instances, the symbolism was too obvious and some jokes (like the stories about citizens of Australia being killed by various wild animals) didn't exactly work, but SIRENS is nevertheless very stylish and entertaining film that should be recommended even to those viewers who are indifferent towards seeing beautiful women naked.

Copyright 2001 Dragan Antulov

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