Joe Cinque's Consolation full movie review - A promising premise let down by a muddled screenplay
"Anyone can have bad luck when they're looking for love, it never works out, until it does" says the friendly, unassuming Joe Cinque in an early scene of the true crime film Joe Cinque's Consolation.
We get the sense that this may be a relationship that will indeed work. The problem at the centre of this film is a lack of insight into that very relationship.
We are introduced to Joe and Anu, two twenty somethings who are clearly captivated by one another in a crowded Canberra bar one summer evening in the mid 1990s. Things move quite abruptly from that moment on and the film jarringly shifts to 1997, when things seem to be heading into a steady decline for the two. Anu's fragile mental state is clearly taking its toll on Joe, whose eagerness to help is endearing but probably misplaced. Neither of these two seem to know exactly what is wrong, and the blame is neatly tied to an "autoimmune disorder" that can be maintained by "eating right, getting rest", a ruse used to keep up appearances with their acquaintances, as Joe informs his mate at a backyard party. But it's clear Anu's problems run much deeper than anything that can be aligned with an eating and diet regimen. She's flighty, impulsive and acts out of desperation. Joe's frustrated attempts to console her mean well, but it becomes apparent that Anu's thoughts are growing darker and less rational as his attempts to help run into a wall.
Joe Cinque's Consolation is based on a true crime case from Australia. It's a strange and fascinating story, with aspects of familiarity which induce interest but also enough peculiarity to divide it from other tales of senseless behaviour that stem from obsessive love. The acting is fabulous and one of the true stand outs of this film. The two leads are particularly good at evoking the ability to convey people, living and dead, without tarnishing their memory or reducing them to stock characters. They give enough nuance and complexity to fuel a story of multifaceted people who do not have clear motives. Maggie Naouri's brilliant performance as Anu is so masterful and multi-layered that she elevates the material far beyond the sub-par territory it very narrowly avoids. Anyone who loves with intensity can recognise themselves in Anu and I attribute this to Naouri's incredible command of the character's vulnerable state. First time director Sotiris Dounoukos presents the film in an unbiased, detached sense. The problem with the film is not exactly the neutrality of tone, but the inability to show what led these characters to act in the way they did. We do not know why Joe stayed with a woman who clearly compromised his own happiness for so long, and we don't know what drove Anu's obsessive desire to possess Joe. A backstory would have been inappropriate, and perhaps excessive, but the importance of their relationship when it thrived is something that should not have been skimmed over, as is the case in this film. It bears mentioning that the film is technically very well done. It has some great cinematography and the sleepy, suburban banality of Canberra's urban landscape is apparent. It takes on an almost contradictory nature when compared to the endless fanaticism of these two people and those who accompany them, whether as a supporting character or central figure. The banality of evil rings true here, as we question how this deceptively sleepy landscape could inspire such macabre behaviour. The answer, of course, is mind- numbing boredom and stifling suburban ennui. The camera lens conveys Canberra as a character on its own, foreboding in its homogeneity.
The scenes with Joe's parents are fascinating, particularly when they come into contact with the ambiguous, fiery woman who has captured Joe's heart. There are problems though, particularly with credibility. The rationality and moral compass of these characters is constantly questionable. Perhaps the biggest duplicity lies among the circle of friends of Anu and Joe, who know what is coming, but fail to stop it even when they are presented with the opportunity to do so. A scene which very neatly summed up the personal ambiguity of these characters takes placed towards the end, when a distressed friend of Joe's pleads with Anu to rectify her mistake and save Joe or risk being turned into the police. "I want to act moral", she shouts into the phone... is her desire to act moral based on a programmed compliance with moral code and societal norm, or her genuine care and concern for this man? The actress who plays Anu's friend, and co-conspirator, Madhavi, delivers her lines with such monotone dullness that she almost becomes robotic. Is this the voice of a detached psychopath or just a sheepish enabler? What makes her any less forgivable than Anu, particularly when she had the means to turn her friend in and save Joe's life? Whether this skewed morality is intentional or the result of a muddled screenplay is unclear.
The final moments are harrowing, even to those familiar with the case and who know what is going to happen. The one major flaw of the film, however, is we never really understand what brought these characters there.