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A bumpy road to love in `Somersault'

April 17, 2006|Susan King

"Somersault," an erotic and expressive study of a 16-year-old girl's sexual awakening, received 13 Australian Institute Awards, including best film of 2004, best actress and best director.

The wins, though, were a double-edged sword for writer-director Cate Shortland. "It was a really difficult year in Australian film," said Shortland, who made her feature directorial debut with "Somersault." "It was fantastic to win all of these awards, but it would have been great if it had been a stronger year. There were less movies made that year."

That downward trend in production continues. "Our film and television industry operates on a government funding system," she said. "Probably 60% to 70% of our budgets are government funded. At the moment, it is not a huge government priority to make films. We used to make 100 hours of TV drama at the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I think last year we made six."

Filmmakers and actors, she said, are worried. "[Australian film] has had such a strong history, but we are not giving it the love and sustenance. I hope in a couple of years, it will turn around. But we are all very scared about it."

"Somersault," which opens Friday, stars Abbie Cornish as Heidi, a teenager so needy for love she looks for it in all the wrong places.

Heidi runs away from her home after her mother catches her seducing a boyfriend. Winding up in a small Australian town, Heidi manages to find a job at a gas station market and a new love interest (Sam Worthington), the son of a wealthy farmer.

The film, said Shortland, is an amalgam of experiences from her own life, as well as people she's encountered over the years.

"I worked at a school for emotionally disturbed children and there was this fantastic, blond aboriginal girl with green eyes. She had such a fantastic spirit. She was very sexualized and damaged but like a beautiful angel -- a lot like Heidi."

Cornish was the first actress Shortland auditioned. "Her instincts were spot on," said Shortland.

"I probably saw about 30 other girls. Most of them -- their instinct was that Heidi was really flirtatious. Abbie always played her as really introverted, quiet -- her emotions are so buried under the skin she doesn't feel anything. It was perfect."

-- Susan King

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