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WALKING ON WATER is disturbing in the best sense of the word: it calls forth a sense of identification with each of the major characters in this story and makes us uncomfortable while providing avenues for insight and change. Were that all movies had the emotional and spiritual impact of this fine film written by Roger Monk and directed newcomer Tony Ayres.
The setting is Sydney, Australia and the mood is established by cinematographer Robert Humphreys' panoramas of the ocean and inlets and coastlines surrounding this city. Gavin (David Bonney) is dying with AIDS and has been attended in his home by his friend and business partner Anna (Maria Theodorakis) and caregiver Charlie (Vince Colosimo) and Charlie's lover Frank (Nicholas Bishop). It is Gavin's wish to die with dignity and when the time comes for the assisted suicide, the designated doctor Dr Simms (Timothy Jones) administers IV morphine while Gavin is surrounded by his extended family as well as his brother Simon (Nathaniel Dean) and wife Kate (Anna Lisa Phillips) and his mother (Judi Farr). The euthanasia does not seem to be working and in desperation Charlie places a plastic bag over Gavin's head to hasten the requested death - a deed that will haunt Charlie and the rest at the bedside.
Anna remains apparently calm in the immediate aftermath, tending to the 'funeral' arrangements according to Gavin's requests. Gavin's mother appears to want to make up for years of distance by interceding in the plans and the will, but Anna is strong and the service goes as planned. After the funeral the mother and Simon's wife leave to return to their home away form Sydney, leaving Simon to remain until Gavin's ashes are ready for transport. In this 'home' things begin to disintegrate: Charlie attempts to evade his guilt about his final assistance by anesthetizing himself with morphine elixir, cocaine, alcohol and barhopping. His behavior further distances his lover Frank and the latter ends the relationship. Anna finds emotional outlet in placing demands on Charlie and eventually sublimates her loss by escaping into physical encounters with Simon, taking him to bed and to bars and to drugs all of which eventually awaken Simon to his infidelity to Kate and results in his leaving the 'home'.
The climax of the film is the confrontation of those who were closest to Gavin - Anna and Charlie - who in despair vent their rage so intimately associated with the death of a loved one and search for a path of recovery. It is this means of healing that comprises the ending of this richly tender film.
Actors Vince Colosimo and Maria Theodorakis are exceptionally fine in their roles and the supporting cast is homogeneously fine. Judi Farr gives one of those cameos that breathes 'best supporting actress'! The concept of how extended families intertwine with genetic families in times of stress is as well shown in this film as any in memory. One criticism: much of the excellent script is lost to poor sound editing, to the good but overly loud music, and most important to the lack of English subtitles for those of us who are not intimately familiar with the varying Australian accents! Watch this film twice and with trained ears you'll appreciate it even more. Grady Harp
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