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Haute couture in a small Australian town: The Dressmaker seems to be about more than fashion. Jocelyn Moorehouse’s stack contrast of color and cultures makes for fascinating storytelling.
Coming back to the hometown of your childhood can bring forth a flood of emotions. For Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Kate Winslet), this homecoming is to do more than reconnect with people, but to find out the truth behind why she was sent away from this community as a child. There were rumours that she was instrumental in the death of a boy on the school playground, but with the passing of time the facts are not as clear. After being away from this small community for 20 years, Tilly returns to minimal fanfare. Even though in the two decades since she left as a girl, she has become an accomplished seamstress within the world of haute couture in Europe. Tilly proves to have a gift to transform people with her styles and is able to weave her magic with her skills in the local community. Also, her magic seems to cast a spell over Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth), who attempts to win the heart of the femme fatale. In amongst the romance and fashion tends of Dungator Tilly comes to the realization that she is central to many of the secrets of the little Australian village. During the transformation of this little rural town, she begins to uncover the truth of her banishment and must consider whether to stay or to plot for her revenge.
Rural Victoria becomes a beautiful supporting character within this tale of past intrigue and wrong doing. The stark browns and greys of the Australian landscape provide the contrast for the stunning creations from the talented dressmaker. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse (How to Make an American Quilt) utilises these colors to develop a contrasting vibrancy against the dreary palette of the backward community. She interprets this visual story by depicting a community that has become lifeless and shows contempt toward anything new that adds any color of life. The new things that come into the small town are initially embraced but are eventually destroyed. Moorhouse manages to communicate a realism to the small town culture and shows that anything that is different cannot be celebrated, but is treated with suspicion and rejection.
Another strength of Moorhouse is her knack for choosing her actors well. Winslet leads a stellar cast of characters and brilliantly portrays the jaded woman that comes looking for answers to her past. Her role is complemented by the wonderful Judy Davis (To Rome with Love), who is welcomed back to Australian cinema. Davis captures the transformative nature of Molly Dunnage and conveys the bittersweet nature of small town Australia. Hemsworth represents the hope of the community and their relationship. He seems to thrive in his Australian homeland and provides one of his strongest roles to date. Hugo Weaving and Sarah Snook provide strong support for the Australian community of Dungator, but are unfortunately under utilised within this ensemble cast.
With the vibrant landscapes, beautiful wardrobes and a stunning cast of characters, The Dressmaker has the potential to weave together a brilliant Australian film. The key flaw in the fabric of the production is the disjointed storyline. Rosalie Ham’s book seems to have the difficulty in finding its identity. It is unable to discern if it is a story of redemption, revenge, love or homecoming. There is room for all of these elements within the film, but the writing fails to identify the direction of the lead characters in the film. The first two acts move along on a logical trajectory, but the final act seems to come from a different production altogether. The decisions of the screenwriters are understandable, but become nonsensical and leave things with a less that satisfactory conclusion. The overall visual direction is stunning, the actors are spot on, but the story fails to deliver in the end. This fable of fashion moves from high-end film making to a straight ‘off the rack’ story of empty revenge.
This quality production proves to be fulfilling and great cinema in the first two acts, but the final act fails to deliver any satisfaction. A beautiful film that gets unnecessarily derailed in the end.