Next week sees the limited cinematic release of the Australian/Polish co-production, Belladonna. The directorial feature film debut of Melbourne-based Polish-born filmmaker Annika Glac, Belladonna is a moody exploration of love’s conflict with rationality. Following Luke, a naturopath driven to insomnia by nightmares of a centuries-old tragic romance, Belladonna traces an otherwise idyllic existence in the process of unravelling following an uncanny stranger’s sudden appearance.
Staring Todd MacDonald (The Jammed, The Secret Life of Us) and Kate Kendal (The Pacific, The Librarians), Belladonna is a lushly produced, ethereal drama. Glac’s collaboration with cinematographer Marcus Struzina proves enormously effective, successfully imbuing Belladonna with some real cinematic beauty. The score, for its part too is refreshingly strange and oddly haunting. However, written as well as directed by Glac, the plot’s parallel structure—simultaneously focused on a modern couple approaching marriage and the past tortured life of an eastern European peasant—ultimately fails to deliver on the film’s aesthetic promise. For a slow-burning film that relies on real emotive connection to sustain audience attention,Belladonna too frequently mistakes superficial beauty for emotional engagement.
Despite these missteps, however, Belladonna does herald the arrival of a promising cinematic team, exhibiting a conviction that is to be admired. Having written, directed and produced a number of live theatrical projects, as well as having her short film (The Kiss) featured at the International Biennale in Paris in 1998, Annika Glac’s considerable creative talents continue to show enormous potential, while Struzina’s cinematography is already showing glimpses of brilliance. Given the chance to mature and fully marry the visual extravagance already on show here with more refined storytelling, Australian audiences can surely expect exciting things from these two in the future.
Belladonna is on limited release a select cinemas next week.