Director: Lawrence Johnston
After his exceptional award-winning shorts Night Out (MIFF '90) and Eternity (MIFF '94), director Lawrence Johnston's much-anticipated debut feature, Life, is an excitingly cinematic adaptation, or dynamic re-visioning, of actor/playwright John Brumpton's acclaimed theatre piece Containment, a dramatised account of the situation of inmates in the segregated HIV positive section of an Australian Prison.
Brumpton, who co-scripted with Johnston, is surely one of Life's major strengths. He forcefully fleshes out the lead role of quick-tempered hardened Des, a crim who tests positive and is sent to T2 division where his cell-mate. Ralph (a superbly sensitive David Treddinick) is a chatty chap keen to keep the virus at bay. Both Des and Ralph bring with them loads of emotional baggage which is vividly evoked via subliminal flashbacks and interaction between themselves and amongst the other inmates of T2.
Characters such as Robert Morgan's testily manic Snakey, Noel Jordan's poignantly tender limmy and Ian Scott's complexly monstrous Officer Berwick are indelibly etched, as are Belinda McClory's sensually vulnerable Sharon and Libby Tanner's ardently spirited Jane playing the women in each of Des's and Ralph's lives
But to describe this beautifully composed. movingly rendered, altogether shattering experience as 'an AIDS prison drama' denies Johnston's haunting movie the full range and reach of its compelling grip on any number of wider issues and universal concerns As the filmmaker says, "It is a film about relationships, about mortality and the transience of what we call life—about memory and hope It is a mixture of emotions between men and women, tough and romantic, but always strong" (PK)