Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sotiris Dounoukos
Stars: Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Sacha Joseph, Jackson Tozer, Gia Carides, Tony Nikolapopoulos.
This true crime story again proves that often truth is stranger than fiction.
In 1997, Anu Singh (played by Maggie Naouri, from Wentworth, etc), a law student at the Australian National University, killed her boyfriend Joe Cinque (Jerome Meyer) with a fatal heroin overdose following a dinner party at their house. Some of the guests had heard about her plans but did nothing to warn Joe or stop her.
Joe was a quiet engineering student who met Anu at a pub, and eventually they settled into a relationship. But when she began to grow uncomfortable with her own body and displayed symptoms of body dysmorphia, their relationship grew strained and tense. Increasingly unstable and suffering from low self-esteem, Anu began to blame Joe for her troubles. She began to fixate on taking her own life, and taking Joe with her. She confided in her friend and fellow law student Madhavi Rao (Sacha Joseph), who became a reluctant accomplice. Her idea was to dug Joe with Rohypnol and then administer a lethal dose of heroin.
Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a moody and downbeat and troubling character study, and a psychological thriller that explores an obsessive relationship. The film is based on the 2004 nonfiction book written by Helen Garner (best known for her classic Monkey Grip, etc), who attended Singh’s trial. Garner drew upon witness testimony to structure her novel. This is the feature film debut for Sotiris Dounoukos, who has made a handful of short films. Dounoukos grew up in Canberra and attended ANU at the same time as Singh. He has a personal interest in the murder and a personal connection to the material.
Dounoukos co-wrote the film with Matt Rubinstein, and they spent some five years developing the script, drawing upon Garner’s novel as source material as well as interviewing some of the people involved. Even though we know the outcome, the film lacks a sense of urgency and suspense. Dounoukos and Rubenstein should have staged the film as a courtroom trial, with flashback sequences to explore the events leading up to Joe’s death, which would have provided a more compelling and dramatic focus. This seems like a wasted opportunity to produce a compelling drama .
Joe Cinque’s Consolation tackles complex moral, ethical and legal issues. It explores some big themes like mental illness, suicide, injustice, crime and punishment, community, responsibility, and the consequences when love turns sour. The film itself raises some disturbing questions about why Singh acted in such a way, and questions the behaviour of that small circle of friends and their culpability in what transpired. It also raises questions about whether justice was done, as Singh was found guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished capacity. But it doesn’t provide satisfactory answers to these questions. Big themes, so it is a little disappointing that the film itself is a bit bland and sluggishly paced by director Dounoukos.
The film has actually been shot in Canberra, where the events occured, which lends an authenticity to the material. Cinematographer Simon Chapman (The Loved Ones, The Devil’s Candy, etc) makes good use of the locations and uses the city as a strong and picturesque backdrop to the action.
The film features a cast of little known actors, and for the most part the performances are a bit amateurish and wooden. The stand out is Naouri, a television actress who has appeared in dramas like Neighbours and Wentworth, who gives a good and complex performance as the manipulative, cold and increasingly troubled and disturbed Singh. But she is such an unpleasant and neurotic character that it is hard to work up any sympathy for her. This is the first feature film for Meyer as well, but he is unfortunately a little bland as Joe, who seems oblivious to what is happening. As such we don’t particularly empathise with him or his fate. Jackson Tozer plays his weak willed and conflicted friend Len. Gia Carides (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, etc) and Tony Nikolakopoulos (Alex & Eve, etc) bring a quiet diginty to their roles as Joe’s parents Maria and Nino.