In our February issue, empire predicted that 2012 would be the best year in film in an age. Through the loophole of human error, we managed to not include Wish You Were Here in an otherwise exhaustive preview, not learning until after sending the magazine to the printers that it would open Sundance. This was a blunder of Maginot Line proportions. The impeccable Wish You Were Here is further evidence that Blue-Tongue Films are arguably the most important collective in the Australian film landscape today.
Why? Firstly, they transcend the usual clichés surrounding the output of the Australian industry while making films that bear some of their hallmarks. "Successful" local product falls, very broadly, into: gritty dramas (Lantana), genre shockers (Wolf Creek), daffy heartwarmers (Red Dog) and Baz Luhrmann films. Which is fine. What the output from the Blue-Tongue directors' collective - Joel Edgerton, Nash Edgerton, Kieran Darcy-Smith, David Michôd, and Spencer Susser - does is create wholly original material which is Australian, but much more.
Secondly, through a body of work which includes The Square, Michôd and Susser's off-kilter American film Hesher, and Animal Kingdom (not technically theirs as it was produced by Porchlight Films, but it was created by several Blue-Tongue principals) they have created a signature, not through a uniform or stylised technical process - it is a group of directors after all - but of material and tone. They tell tales of ordinary people thrust into terrible circumstances which develop in ways that render them powerless, while detonations of consequences ripple away from them to those they love. Like the earlier work of Lars von Trier, they fill a completely real universe with devastating stories told by quality actors giving fearless performances; films that reach out and grab the viewer's chest and squeeze.
Which brings us to Wish You Were Here. As the title credits roll, four friends from Sydney are living it up on holiday in Cambodia, an enviable collage of exotic colour, night markets, sizzling food, golden beaches, then a dance party under the moon. The sequence finishes with Joel Edgerton alone, dazed, flecked with blood, stumbling across scrub to a distant resort in the pre-dawn light. The hook is in. Screenwriters Darcy-Smith and Price (who are married) waste no time planting seeds of intrigue. It's a technique they use expertly in a note-perfect script, dropping distant clues as the narrative skips between two chronologies; the present back in Sydney, and the previous week in Cambodia. This speedily develops character and plot, yet never feels hurried. For a large chunk of the film, little is revealed, but the way the characters strive to hold it together builds exquisite tension.
As the couple at the centre of this growing storm, Edgerton and Price are exemplary. Alice and Dave are great people - in love, married, with lovely kids and another on the way, he a boatbuilder, she an ESL teacher who has the heart to visit Jeremy's parents to include them in events. These are people we know and like; their problems are universal and mundane, until now. What unfolds for them - and, seriously, to reveal much of the plot would deserve a thousand kicks from a thousand camels - tears them to pieces individually and as a unit.
No-one in the production hits a dud note. Wardrobe, production design, Tim Rogers's song choices, Rosie Chase's score - all serve the whole in a neatly knitted, unobtrusive way. As co-writer and director, that whole belongs to Darcy-Smith, whose nerveless choices in shot selection, lighting, and editing (with cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin and editor Jason Ballantine) plumb veracity at every turn. Whether the familiar tumble of the kitchen in the family home, or a seedy dive in rural Cambodia, Darcy-Smith's handheld steady-cam finds the truth, while the tight framing of his actors captures the flicker and boil of their emotions. It's all perfectly balanced in a yarn where every single event and emotion is possible. Not in the, "I guess the physics of that Boogie Nights gunfight could have left Don Cheadle alive," way - well, there is barely a gun in this, anyway - but in a, "Holy shit, how would you deal with this?" way. It is the kind of film that once you've left the cinema, you feel yourself exhaling, looking at the sky, dazzled and counting your blessings. As we should: Australia is home to the Blue-Tongue.