Starring: Barry Otto, Helen Jones, Lynette Curran
Director: Ray Lawrence
Rated: MA (15+)
Extras: Director’s Cut with commentary by Lawrence and producer Anthony Buckley
Distributor: Roadshow Entertainment
Some people think that working in advertising is a bit like selling your soul to the devil, especially when you have to sex up carcinogenic products and make them irresistible to the public. Writer Peter Carey grappled with this Faustian concept in his Booker Prize winning novel ‘Bliss’ in which an ad executive by the name of Harry Joy re-examines his life in the wake of a near death experience. Carey was working in the advertising world when he wrote the book, as was Ray Lawrence who worked with Carey on the screenplay and went on to direct the screen adaptation.
Harry Joy (wonderfully realised by Barry Otto) sees the light at the end of his tunnel and comes screeching back to his body to make amends. After damning his adulterous wife (Lynette Curran) and incestuous children (Gia Carrides and Miles Buchanan), he proceeds to fire his multi-million dollar clients, one of whom shows him a cancer map illustrating incidents of various forms of the disease in one urban centre. He then treats himself to a prostitute who turns out to be a “gifted amateur” from a rainforest commune called Honey Barbara (a beautifully earthy Helen Jones). While Harry’s family is determined to lock him up in a mental institute, Honey Barbara wants to save his soul from the bad karma he has inflicted on himself working in advertising.
When the film first screened at Cannes, hundreds of people stormed out, most of them in reaction to an early scene in which live sardines flop onto the floor from between Harry’s wife’s legs – this metaphor for guilt was simply too graphic, especially for the blokes. ‘Caning at Cannes: Bliss bombs’ was how the press reported it, but the film gained traction and went on to become one of the finest and most imaginative ever to have come out of Australia. Peter Weir once said that Lawrence had hit at the target just twice – first with Bliss and then, sixteen years later with Lantana, and “they both hit dead centre”. With his third feature Jindabyne due for release, it’s timely to look back at the film that won him his first AFI Award for Best Director (not to mention Best Screenplay and Best Picture), and see a surreal, moving document of the rise of environmental awareness in this country.