Squint your eyes and the NSW Central Coast beachside retreat of Seal Rocks looks a bit like ancient Greece. You certainly don’t have to try hard to imagine buff surfer dudes Xavier Samuel (Oz film’s everywhere-man) and James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom’s deadpan narrator) as young gods, or trim-and-terrific Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as Amazonian matriarchs. French auteur Anne Fontaine’s first English language film is the stuff of Greek myth, with Lil (Watts) and Roz (Wright), besties since childhood, embarking on simultaneous liaisons with each other’s teenage sons. Lil is widowed but Roz has an academic hubby, Harold (Ben Mendelsohn); his absence starting a new job in Sydney allows the Dionysian shenanigans to unfold one night after a few drinks on the verandah, while the eternal waves plough on. Euripides would have loved it.
Fontaine (Coco avant Chanel) has a knack for tales of transgressive women and this co-production, an adaptation of Doris Lessing’s 2003 novella The Grandmothers, gives Australian-set cinema is first truly erotic beachside movie since Age of Consent. Lil and Roz, lesbians by proxy, are overwhelmed by urges that only threaten to destroy them when they fight to control them, believing that’s what society demands. Watts and Wright are magnificent – although the American’s trouble with the accent threatens to break the spell at times – while Christopher Hampton’s pared-back screenplay and Christophe Beaucarne’s ravishing lensmanship locate the action in a reality that is only a blink away from the simmering landscape of the unconscious. Summer Bay will never seem the same again.