Baz Luhrmann has a few points to make in "Australia," his World War II-era romantic epic starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman: points about the mixing of genres, untold stories of the country's involvement in the war and that even in the most brutal parts of his homeland, there is soul-moving beauty.
"When I arrived there, I thought, 'This is going to be horrendous, shooting under these conditions,' " said Kidman of filming in Australia's rugged Northern Territory. "And, slowly, it starts to take ahold of you, and by the end of it I was looking for property."
She laughed, then added, "There's only certain times of the year when you can actually stay there because of the wet season. But then there's the months when it's probably some of the most exquisite places in the world. And that has to do with the sunsets too, because no matter how hot it is during the day, when you experience that -- 25 minutes of the sun setting -- it's intoxicating."
Kidman plays an English aristocrat whose husband has spent a suspiciously long time in Australia, trying to sell a massive cattle station they own there. Once she arrives to investigate, she gets caught up with a cowboy (known only as "The Drover," played by Jackman) and an aboriginal child as she finds herself locked in a cattle war. Luhrmann said he aims to use the expansive, rarely filmed landscapes to evoke emotion, as well as employing an unorthodox mix of genre elements.
"The story arc is quite simple; it's a romance," he said by phone from -- where else? -- Australia. He railed against the industry's compartmentalization of films into strict categories, promising to stir together comedy, action, drama and passionate romance. "The subplot, however, is very dramatic and very real. Aboriginal children of mixed race, the government would take them from their families and put them in institutions to turn them into European kids. It's the equivalent, if you like, of the issue of African American slavery. It was that traumatic.
"And what a lot of people don't know is that a Japanese attack force came down and wiped out the northern city of Australia [Darwin]. It's sort of, if you like, the iceberg in the story. It's the tragedy that's always coming at the end of the film. You know that someone's going to die, but you don't quite know who. I hope."
"As Baz says, it's a feast," said Kidman in a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "It's not meant to be an intellectual drama, it's meant to be entertaining. It's meant to have big emotions and, I think, take you on a bit of a roller coaster ride. Even though it's nowhere near like 'Moulin Rouge!' or 'Romeo + Juliet,' it's more classical in its style, it still has Baz imprinted on it. There's a very linear story, very simplistic themes surrounded by sort of a magical presentation.
"Now he's in the editing room and he's concocting his feast." ("Australia" opens Nov. 26.)
The pleasure of reuniting with good friend Luhrmann wasn't all Kidman took away from the experience. She said perhaps her favorite scene involved driving 1,500 cattle across the desert.
"I mean, when am I ever going to get to do that? Cracking my stock whip and moving that cattle. We did it, we were trained. I can cut cattle now. There was something very powerful in doing that. I felt powerfully Ozzy. But I also felt capable as a woman and very capable as a person to be able to sweat and get dirty and do those things."
She paused, then added, "But kissing in the sunset is kind of nice."