Alexandra's Project (2003)
By: Julian on June 20, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2:35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. 98 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Rolf de Heer
Starring: Gary Sweet, Helen Buday, Bogdan Koca
Screenplay: Rolf de Heer
Country: Australia
External Links
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I've never had a great deal of faith in the Australian film industry, despite hailing from the country all my life. There have been a few classics in Mad Max, Gallipoli and the like, but in most cases it's been a case of everyone drinks while the business sinks. However, in between the few gaps of the phalanx of fail that clog up our industry, there are a few gems – Rolf de Heer is one of them. De Heer, who moved to Australia from the Netherlands when he was eight, is responsible for some of Australia's more subversive pictures, most famously 1993's Bad Boy Bubby, which received international acclaim and was picked up by US cult film distributor Blue Underground. De Heer is ever willing to explore unchartered territory and, in 2003 on a pittance, he helmed Alexandra's Project, a powerful but flawed character study into the 'politics of marriage'.

Alexandra's Project introduces us to Steve (Gary Sweet) on his fortieth birthday. Steve's a white-collar worker, husband to Alexandra (Helen Buday) and father to two kids Emma and Sam. When Steve leaves for work that morning after the preliminary celebrations and promise of more to come, Alexandra and the kids start on his present. After some preparations, Alexandra piles the kids into a cab while she finishes preparing the 'gift'.

Steve returns home that evening to a house deserted and in disarray. In the living room on top of the television, there's a video marked 'Play Me'. He does, at first thinking it's an elaborate joke – until his wife, on tape, begins to recount why she's unhappy in their marriage. With a heard-it-all-before roll of the eyes, Steve zones out. Until the on-screen Alexandra pulls out a gun.

At this point, we're about forty minutes into the film, which runs for 100. To go into the plot details further would spoil the intricate web of lies and deception de Heer's script explores, and this is one of the few Australian films that really plumbs the murky depths of rancid suburban life ala American classics Blue Velvet and American Beauty. Certainly some strong comparisons can be drawn to the latter film, which pre-dated Alexandra's Project by four years, in the sense that we're presented with a reasonably mundane existence (and one that the vast majority of viewers can relate to), and we're forced to watch it fall apart in all too palpable ways.

Alexandra's Project is, on face value, a feminist tract, the wholehearted endorsement of cruel and unusual punishment to an imperfect man – hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That's if you can buy into the whole 'years married, nothing said' business in what seemed to be far from an abusive household. Look into it deeper, and you can see Alexandra for the sick, reprehensible human being she is – there's no payoff here, no sympathy for the devil. Who's the villain? It's anyone's guess. You come out hating Steve and hating Alexandra, and de Heer does such a good job wobbling the moral compass that the whole thing seems unremittingly bleak and hopeless.

The performances are excellent, and oscillate between subtle and overacted. I'm a fan of Sweet and have fond memories of his turn as Sergeant Steve McClintock in Police Rescue. Buday is also very good, and this is no doubt the best entry in her slim canon. What acts to the detriment of Alexandra's Project is its length with respect to its content. At 100 minutes, this could have been shorn of at least fifteen or twenty – there are moments when the pace crawls snail-like. De Heer has the filmmaking prowess to pull this off the first few times, but then the entire picture loses momentum – something that becomes profoundly evident in a film set in the one place and with, for the most part, only two characters.

Alexandra's Project is a very good movie by a director who can be recognised as one of the very few saving graces of the Australian film industry. De Heer's nuanced direction is sensational, and the performances are top-notch throughout. De Heer said his film, which he joked was 'indescribable', was a story of 'the politics of marriage', but it's so much more than that –Alexandra's Project is a character study of a truly repulsive human being wreaking a revenge worse than death, and the ending will resound particularly loudly to certain viewers. That said, Alexandra's Project has its flaws, particularly in the pacing – it's not that de Heer's script is poor but there are times it's inadequate, and the terrific impetus many of the scenes have can be lost in a few unnecessary minutes.
Video
Alexandra's Project is presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement and it's generally clear, though the colours can be fairly muted at times. Ian Jones' cinematography is very good and succeeds in conveying the tight, claustrophobic atmosphere of the film. Jones has worked with de Heer on a number of occasions, including for Bad Boy Bubby and Ten Canoes.
Audio
Two English audio tracks are provided – Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Both are crisp and clear, but obviously for more depth, the 5.1's the way to go.
Extra Features
The highlight on this disc is a Popcorn Taxi interview with Rolf de Heer and Margaret Pomeranz about the film. It runs over an hour and de Heer is exceptionally informative and articulate, giving some great behind-the-scenes insight. His yarn on how the film was conceived (essentially to use up extra film stock) is hilarious.

There's a thirty-seven minute making-of doco that consists mainly of on-set footage and interviews. It's not terribly engaging but worth a look for the interested. There's also a photo gallery and biographies of the main players.

A theatrical trailer for Alexandra's Project and other Palace films have been included.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I wasn't expecting too much from this, but I came away impressed. Madman has compiled a very good disc for one of the most intriguing Australian films in a long time. De Heer's direction smacks of consummate professionalism despite the faults of his screenplay and the actors are all superb. While it may mean American Beauty déjà vu for some viewers, Alexandra's Project comes recommended from this one.

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