Based on a short story by late American author Raymond Carver and directed by “Lantana” and “Bliss” filmmaker Ray Lawrence, this beautifully crafted, yet disturbing tale is about Stewart, a retired Irish rally driver-turned-garage owner (Byrne) existing quietly in rural Jindabyne, New South Wales until a tragedy changes his life forever.
Devoted father of pre-schooler Tom, Stewart is struggling to forgive his wife, Claire, (Byrne’s “P.S.” co-star Laura Linney) for abandoning them during an earlier bout of post-partum depression. Seeing a fishing holiday with three friends (John Howard, Stelios Yiakmis and Simon Stone) as a welcome break from his troubles, Stewart is later surprised and saddened — but oddly not moved to seek help or go home — when he discovers the battered body of a murdered Aboriginal girl floating in the river. Fully aware there is a corpse in their midst, the men go on about their business, only reporting their find to police when they are about to leave. Upon returning home, they find their callous actions have sparked a firestorm and made them the targets of a community’s suspicion, judgment and rage.
So, what was it about this small film that coaxed the star of “Vanity Fair,” “Stigmata,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Little Women” away from his comfortable New York home and cherished loved ones for eight weeks in the Australian Outback?
“It’s a tremendously complex, provocative, thoughtful film that has, in the end, no resolutions to it,” the 56-year-old actor told the Irish Echo in New York last week. “Most films, you know how everyone ends up; this leaves a lot of threads hanging in the air because life is like that.”
Byrne says he is particularly pleased with how well the picture shows people transformed by tragedy.
“The movie is an attempt to take a real-life situation and examine it, not from a ‘movie point of view,’ but from a real point of view. What happens when someone is raped, murdered and disposed of? What is the effect of that on the people left behind and how does it impact on us as individuals? This picture could take place in Australia or Ireland. It could take place anywhere, but the themes of it are absolutely universal – marriage, the violence against women,” he observed. “The film is really about the effect that a sudden and violent death has on the community around them and how difficult it is to go back to what you were at that random moment. You think about something like the [mine] explosion in Alma; how did anybody ever go back to the day before that? Or how did the people in New York ever really go back to the days before 9/11, which now seem to be almost idyllic? They seem like fairytale days, where nothing bothered us. … The ‘before and after’ line is so clear.”
While Byrne seems comfortable with the fact “Jindabyne” probably won’t make $100 million at the box office when it opens in limited release this weekend, the former star of Irish television said he hopes those who do see the film will think and talk about the issues it raises.
“Most of the films that I’ve been drawn to, I’ve always looked at them and said, ‘Well, I really like the script, but there is no way that more than 20 people are going to see it.’ Well, not 20, but it’s always going to have a small audience,” said the actor, who has also starred in the recent independent films “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” and “Wah-Wah.”
Acknowledging there are dozens of reasons why smaller films might not find audiences, Byrne gives by way of an example an account of how he noticed there were only five people in the cinema when he went last month to see the Irish Civil War film, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” starring Cillian Murphy.
“Maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t think it’s an accident. I think that [‘Barley’] is in very limited release because it caused a furor in Britain, where it was regarded as revisionist,” explained the former archeologist and schoolteacher. “But, to see a film like that about Ireland made me so proud to be Irish. I alternated between real sorrow and pain and rage and I understood, really for the first time, what those guys did and that, since those events happened in Irish history, we have — I suppose, like any traumatized group of people — we’ve buried our history in a field somewhere deep down where nobody can really get at it and now we’re beginning to exhume it and say, ‘This is what happened.’ … This is probably the first time in Irish history where we have had the luxury of self-reflection. Up until now, it’s been about economics, the emigrant vote and all that kind of stuff. Now we’re at a stage where we can ask, ‘Where did we really come from?’ and ‘How much of our real history was kept from us?'”
As much as Byrne would like to work more frequently in Ireland, he says he doesn’t expect to be able to do so because the Irish film industry still has such enormous obstacles in its path.
“It’s way too expensive to film there,” he said. “Unfortunately, mundane things, which you have absolutely zero control over, which is the weather and the light, do not suit the making of that many films. There are large periods of the Irish weather where there is nothing you can do, but sit in. Also, I still feel that I’m waiting for a film that comes out of Ireland that is Irish, but universal.
The Abbey Theater veteran said he feels the need to get back to theater every now and again, despite the grueling performance schedule.
“It’s a form of torture, really,” he quipped. “It’s like a woman who gives a birth and says: ‘Jesus Christ! I will never go through that again!’ And then, a year later, she’ll say, ‘You want to feel him kicking…?’ You forget the pain and, hopefully, it won’t be as painful the next time, but some pain is good, you know?”
“Jindabyne” opens in select theaters April 27.