Four relationships endure the trials of everyday life in Lantana


Directed by Ray Lawrence

Written by Andrew Bovell based on his play Speaking in Tongues

Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey

Think back to that moment when you’ve climaxed at someone else’s expense. You’ve
just slept with your co-worker, and you picture your girlfriend’s face. You’ve
just had sex with some cute stranger, and you imagine holding your boyfriend’s
hand. When the smoke clears and you acknowledge the fact that someone, somewhere,
will be hurt by the fact that your privates have just realized their pleasure
potential – that’s a bad moment.

Show me a happy couple that claims to have survived a betrayal of sexual trust,
and I’ll show you two procrastinators. In the aftermath of infidelity, the question
of deterioration isn’t if, but when. Recovery may be possible, but the suffering
always comes first.

We cheat when we think that we’re missing something, and this dissatisfaction
leads to our sacrificing long-term love for short-term pleasure. We don’t consider
the consequences of our actions, so we lay down with the wrong people. There
are serious consequences to betrayals of trust in a relationship. Not just with
sex – though more often than not with sex – but with all betrayals, large and
small. That’s what Australian director Raw Lawrence explores in his second feature-length
project in 17 years.

Lantana could be rightly compared to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
Both films feature several simultaneous storylines and multiple main characters
of equal importance, and both rely on coincidence to drive – and control – the
tight sprawl of a plot. But what Magnolia attempted, Lantana accomplishes.
This is a quiet, strong film that’s a bit heady at times, but never gets too
heavy. Unlike Magnolia, it isn’t impressed by itself, and so doesn’t strive
to impress its viewers.

When discussing his Raymond Carver menagerie Short Cuts, director Robert
Altman explained that he cast two dozen big-name actors not for the box-office
draw, but so that the audience could keep all the characters straight. We’re
less likely to confuse famous faces than unknowns, he said. In Lantana,
each character is so well drawn and believable that you can’t possibly mistake
them for each other, even though you’re likely to recognize only Geoffrey Rush
and Barbara Hershey, and maybe Anthony LaPaglia.

In large part, Lantana concerns four marriages, each with its own emotional
and sexual history.

Leon and Sonja are held together by habit and children. He’s a detective who’s
recently begun an affair with Jane, a woman in a dance class that he attends
with Sonja. They have two sons and have fallen into that comfortable yet oft-frustrating
routine of familiarity.

John and Valerie are held together by grief. John is Dean of Law at a nearby
university; Valerie is a therapist who’s written a bestseller about their daughter,
murdered a few years back. Among her clients are Sonja and Patrick, a gay man
who’s having an affair with a married man who, it is suggested, may actually
be John.

Nik and Paula are held together by love and struggle. They have a couple kids,
no money, but lots of affection. Their neighbors are Jane and her soon-to-be-ex-husband

Jane and Pete are recently separated. In the second scene of the film, Jane
has sex with Leon. Pete would like to reconcile with Jane, but she’d rather
develop the affair.

You don’t really need to remember any of this. Director Lawrence has a fine
hand for exposition and development, and lets his audience learn everything
as the story unfolds, quietly, slowly, sometimes with short but dense scenes.
Unlike in Magnolia, none of the characters here are outrageous or provocative.
There are no grandstanding performances and, most importantly, there’s no need
for a rain of frogs to tell the viewer when the climax has arrived.

An audience will accept one major coincidence in a story. But what’s the difference
between normal, acceptable intersection and contrived coincidence? If one accepts
Lantana, then Sydney, Australia, is quite similar to Prague. Or, maybe it’s
the other way around: After living in the tinytown of Prague, the web of Lantana
is realistic. There, as here, you will run into your secret lover while walking
down the street with your co-worker. You will watch your girlfriend and your
fuck-friend become accidental acquaintances on a dance floor. You will somehow
find yourself standing next to the man you’re cuckolding.

Lying is a bad lifestyle choice, and small betrayals build up. They infect.
Lantana suggests that those who live among lies will always see lies. Just as
you must be arrogant to be paranoid, the guilty are usually the most suspicious
of others. Thieves expect to be robbed; liars expect to hear only untruths.
If you betray those around you, you will expect to be betrayed.

The best audience for this film is intelligent, but not overly clever. Betrayed,
but not hardened. Those who have never experienced a committed relationship
– or its agonizing deterioration – may not appreciate this movie.

Jeff Koyen can be reached at

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