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During the winter of 1954, in a remote Tasmanian construction camp of migrant workers, Sonja Buloh's mother Melita Jurisic) walks out of their hut, leaving her three year old daughter Arabella Wane) alone. Her distraught father (Kristof Kaczmarek) perseveres with the dream of a new life in a new country, but he is soon crushed into an alcoholic despair. By the time Sonja turns 16, she is driven to leave him. Nearly 20 years later, single and pregnant Kerry Fox), she returns to Tasmania's highlands and her father, in an attempt to put the pieces of her life into some coherent framework. Initial awkwardness and pain notwithstanding, she slowly unravels her family's history, especially a secret she never knew about her vanished mother. She also learns about love, and how one hand cannot clap alone.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
From the opening scenes of a bleakly serene Tasmanian highland setting, accompanied by a sad and strange nursery song performed quietly by a female voice, Richard Flanagan stamps this his first film with an indelible mark: it's his unique vision, and we are entranced by it.

For a 35 year old white Australian, Flanagan writes with the experience of a much older man, and one whose cultural influences come from somewhere far from Tasmania. This is partly explained by his marriage to a Slovanian, but not totally. With the sort of insight that graces the minds of great writers, Flanagan immerses us in the lives - the broken, scarred and painful lives - of his central characters, complete with the accoutrements of their social and family trappings. He uses words economically, but images expansively, painting his story as if on a canvas of light and shadow.

Suggestion and implication are some of his best tools, aided by the exceptional work of his cast, from the incredible and heart breakingly beautiful three year old Arabella Wain, to the shattered father, played perfectly by Kaczmarek and the unfortunate grown up Sonja, in whom Kerry Fox finds her most challenging role since her work in An Angel At My Table. But all the cast deserves notice here, as does Martin McGrath's riveting photography and Cezary Skubiszewski evocative and varied score.

The latter plays a huge role in setting the intense moods of the film, and while it offers a distinctly European-influenced soundscape, it also insinuates itself into our understanding of the film's themes - great love, terrible pain, shocking suffering, sense of loss, total bewilderment; and finally, the rediscovery of love and humanity. This is a great journey for any audience, but Flanagan and his team are up to it.

Review by Louise Keller:
Cinematic, haunting and emotionally engaging, Richard Flanagan's evocatively titled film makes a deep impression, with a poignant emotional journey to reconcile the present with events in the past. Effectively set in Tasmanian's unique landscape, combining the rugged outdoors with a profound sense of history, The Sound of One Hand Clapping is a film with heart, as it explores ethnic origins, discrimination and the bitter hangover from abuse, violence and love depravation.

It's a story about belonging, wanting to belong, both culturally and emotionally, and the search for those quintessential roots that ground us comfortably into the present. 'To have a future, you must forget the past,' we are told. And in order to forget the past, sometimes that slippery road down memory lane needs to be taken - however treacherous and painful. But the only images that Sonja has seen of her cultural origins are the pictures on the wall of the outside dunny.

From the beginning film titles when images from the present are juxtapositioned with those from the past, the scene is set for Sonja's catharsis. Performances are tops, with Kerry Fox moving as Sonja, much of whose pain lies in the unclarified nature of her past and the tragedies therein. While outwardly in control, she shows her vulnerability with a screen openness. Kristof Kaczmarek makes an indelible mark in his screen debut, as the tortured father - whose past colours his ability to move beyond the violent, over-indulging migrant resentful of never really being accepted. (The roles of the younger Sonja - 8 year old, played by Rosie Flanagan and 3 year old Arabella Wain are beautifully integrated into the jumps of time into the past.)

But overall, it's the images that leave their mark - a little girl precariously walking on icy snow, fragments of a broken child's tea-set symbolising the shattered past and a child immersed in a bath filled with dried flowers. Evocative images with a soulful music score punctuated with ethnic origins. Well worth the journey.

Published July 23, 2009

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(Aus, 1997)

CAST: Kerry Fox, Kristof Kaczmarek, Rosie Flanagan, Melita Jurisic, Jacek Koman, Evelyn Krape

PRODUCER: Rolf de Heer

DIRECTOR: Richard Flanagan

SCRIPT: Richard Flanagan


EDITOR: John Scott, Tania Nehme

MUSIC: Cezary Skubiszewski


OTHER: Festivals: Berlin Film Festival, 1998 -Competition

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen



DVD RELEASE: July 15, 2009

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