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Alexandra's project

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Movie propaganda

You think I'm watching you, don't you?

Steve (Gary Sweet) is a middle-management office worker. He's an ordinary bloke, happily going through the motions of family life as husband to wife Alexandra (Helen Buday) and father to their two children.

It's Steve's birthday, an especially happy day as Steve receives a much sought after promotion. With good news to share at home, Steve leaves work and heads home, in anticipation of a surprise party he suspects Alexandra has organised.

But when he returns home, all is quiet in their suburban townhouse. In fact, deathly quiet. After searching the darkened house for party guests Steve finds nothing, except a gift wrapped video tape labelled "play me". It's not exactly the birthday surprise he expected.

Theatrical propaganda posters

Alexandra's project image

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film Australia drama family marriage video

Persons of interest

  • Helen Buday .... Alexandra
  • Gary Sweet .... Steve
  • Bogdan Koca .... Bill
  • Rolf de Heer .... Screenwriter
  • Rolf de Heer .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Agent Provocateur Alexander Feld

Theatrical report

The "project" Alexandra undertakes is one daring, ruthless enterprise. Rolf de Heer's actual film is less so.

Alexandra's project is a wannabe psycho-thriller that deconstructs the nature of roles within a middle-aged marriage in middle class, middle Australia. It is a revenge piece; Alexandra's "project" is essentially what she does to her husband. The results of this project will last a lifetime; we luck out at 103 minutes.

Welcome to sunny, bland suburban Adelaide. Steve (Gary Sweet) is having a birthday. His gloomy wife Alexandra (Helen Buday) and their two young kids go through their early morning motions. It's pretty obvious that he's in for a rough time. Just listen to the throbbing underscoring and you know something is rotten in the state of South Australia.

Their smarmy neighbour Bill (Bogdan Koca) relentlessly waters his lawn. Bill is a home security specialist who has, incidentally, turned Steve and Alexandra's place into a quasi-vault (we presume because Alex is paranoid.) Steve leaves for work. Alexandra outsources the kids and prepares for the festivities. At his anonymous office, Steve is given a birthday cake and a promotion. He returns home in high spirits, anticipating his surprise.

It comes in a very different manifestation. After searching the now desolate, darkened house, Steve happens upon a VHS tape with "play me" written on it, the contents being his actual pressie. Alexandra narrates. It begins with pleasantries from the kids and quickly devolves into a pathetic striptease. (Emphasis on tease.) Steve is told to get a beer. Things get worse. Steve grabs the cordless phone; the line is dead. His mobile is dead. Panicking, he tries to run for help; now his keys don't fit the locks and the security system has him soundly trapped. A prisoner in his own home, he now has to watch the entire tape. Happy birthday.

This, with the exception of the opening and a brief epilogue, is the film. To give away any more of the developments is a spoiler for the moviegoer and this actually is a film worth seeing. Well, once in your life.

Gary Sweet, a classic uncomplicated Aussie bloke of an actor, plays Steve as a classic middle-management jerk. He gives liberal high-fives, and one can easily imagine him playing the air guitar. He wears polyester shirts and cheap suits. He is as apparently vacuous as he is emotionally constipated. Sweet, although of limited range, is fine in this difficult part (I cannot think of too many films in which most of an actor's performance is played to a TV screen). His Steve is an ideal blend of middle class battler, pent-up tension, insecurity and false machismo. He falls apart well, if a bit obviously, or, yes, method-actorly.

Buday's work is also very strong, especially in that the majority of her performance is seen through a cheap home-made video. Following Alexandra's striptease, Buday is required to perform myriad mind games, threats, accusations and punishments. Plausibility is indeed a bit of a stretch as the picture drones on (it seems as if Alexandra would have needed ASIO, the CIA and Interpol to pull off her "project") but Buday's acting remains believable. This is difficult stuff and one can imagine the conditions that de Heer required of the actors. It must have been one interesting shoot.

Bogdan Koca is the strongest performer in the piece and when he finally has a full-fledged scene one wants to breathe a sigh of relief. Wow, drama! De Heer fashions him as the archetypal ethnic, of obscure accent, anonymous, duplicitous and lascivious. He's got class though: de Heer's camera pans around his book and music-filled mess of an apartment. To emphasise European erudition? That he prefers Chopin to John Farnham? Nice touch, Rolf.

It is duly revealed that Steve has been one prick of a husband and (worse) one lousy, insensitive root. There is indeed actual drama as this is revealed, but the unveiling of the multi-layered revenge is sadly devoid of suspense. Alexandra's retribution doesn't exactly make her into a brick venereal Medea, but the actual deed so outweighs the crime that her character loses any sympathy whatsoever. This couple deserve each other.

Rolf de Heer's has made some interesting if oddly matched films. Bad boy Buddy (1993), eerie, original and twisted, gave the sensation of a threatening phone call. For a brief season one might have thought that the next David Lynch was born Down Under. Sorry, not. What followed was the touching tearjerker Dance me to my song (1998), replete with strong acting, slow pacing and grating sentimentality. The Tracker (2002) re-examined some unpleasantries of our history. Although featuring first class work by David Gulpilil - and some decent acting by Gary Sweet as he attempts to be evil - the effect is lost in de Heer's confused, lethargic vision.

And cinematic vision is exactly what is missing from Alexandra's project. The concept is a reasonably interesting prospect filmed with reasonable actors; it needed rewrites, editing, big, starry actors and a strong director. The camera work, especially as Steve realises his emotional and physical entrapment, looks like that of a cinema student infatuated with Hitchcock. The script is a construction better suited to the basement stage of a Sydney art-house theatre than the big screen. One doubts that an editor was even employed. The "soundtrack" is an essay in the obvious.

What makes this flick worth the price of admission is Alexandra's actual "project". It is no twisted post-Thelma and Louise proto-feminist rant. (Incidentally, feminists will probably be incensed, just as battlers in bad marriages will be terrified.) The outcome is thought provoking enough to inspire dozens of après-film conversations, debates and arguments. What more can we want?

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (Adult themes, high level sex scenes, medium level coarse language)

Surveillance time

103 minutes (1:43 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 8 May 2003

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