Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John Duigan
Stars: Nammi Le, Peter O’Brien, Andrew Hazzard, Ivay Mak, David Field, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Eamon Farren, Simon Garratt, John Duigan.
This is Australian writer/director John Duigan’s first film in nearly a decade, and is his first Australian-made film since 1993’s Sirens. Duigan is the director behind modern Australian classics like the coming of age tale The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting, but has spent most of the past two decades working overseas. The film is an exploration of sex, sexuality, relationships and contemporary, typically male, attitudes towards sex and prostitution.
One of Duigan’s early films was Winter Of Our Dreams, which featured Judy Davis as a drug-addicted prostitute. However, here the story unfolds from a different perspective, and the journey of the central character is markedly different. This is a character driven piece about a young woman, the choices she makes and the consequences of those choices.
Linh (played by newcomer Nammi Le, from the low budget drama Ra Choi) is of Vietnamese descent, and it is important that she is not seen as a victim. She is a student studying social anthropology at Sydney University by day, and working as an escort by night, where she goes by the name of Mai. She has taken to this line of work as a means of earning extra money to help her family pay off their mortgage, as they are struggling ever since her father lost his job. She has managed to juggle both her studies and her role as a high class escort working for the Orient Express agency, until her two worlds collide in unexpected fashion.
But careless Love is also about the various men in her life and their attitudes. Luke (Peter O’Brien) is an enigmatic American art dealer who used to work for the mercenary Blackwater agency in Iraq and is now involved in smuggling stolen artifacts. He befriends Mai, and becomes a regular client, but there is a dangerous element to their friendship. Jack (Andrew Hazzard, from Home And Away, etc) is a fellow student and part-time actor and bar tender, and they move in together. She manages to cover her nocturnal activities by saying that she is in the library studying. But when Jack learns of Linh’s other life he is confused, shaken and angered.
And of course Linh is unable to tell her family the truth how she is raising the money because they would be ashamed. Duigan brings a grim realism to this exploration of the seedy and often dangerous world of prostitutes, and there is a particularly confronting scene involving Linh’s co-worker Mint (Ivy Mak).
Duigan has filled out the cast with a deft mix of veterans and new faces, and they all deliver solid performances. Linh is a strong and resilient character, and Le gives a wonderfully complex performance that hints at her innocence and vulnerability but also her strength. David Field has a strong presence as Dion, Linh’s driver and protector, who has a sympathetic ear for his charges. Hazzard has a likeable and engaging presence. Hugo Johnstone-Burt is effective as the sleazy Seb, who exposes the truth about Linh after she refuses to sleep with him. And Duigan himself brings a touch of humour to the film through his brief appearance as a university lecturer.
Most films dealing with prostitutes are sensational in nature (eg, Jon Hewitt’s seedy thriller X, etc), and treat the central character as a victim. But Duigan’s approach is far more sympathetic, sensitive, restrained and compassionate, and reflects his interest in deeper social issues and moral questions. Nor does he romanticise the profession, a la Pretty Woman and its ilk. There is very little on screen sex, and what there is is tastefully done without any hint of exploitation.
Careless Love has been seductively shot on location around Sydney by cinematographer Kathryn Milliss, who comes from a documentary background, and her use of the RED camera gives this low budget feature a glossy surface.