“I want to see you.”
Paul Cox is an Australian filmmaker, originally born in Holland, who has been making films in his adopted homeland since 1976. He’s often a triple-threat guy, acting as producer, director and writer together on several occasions. Many of his films deal with parent-child or man-woman relationships. In the latter mold was a 1986 film entitled Cactus which Image Entertainment has now made available on DVD.
A young Frenchwoman named Colo is visiting with friends in Australia. She is involved in a car accident that causes a loss of sight in one eye and threatens the same in her other. She is soon faced with the prospect of total blindness. A young blind man, Robert, is introduced to her as someone who may be able to help her deal with the disability. As the two spend more and more time together, they begin to fall in love. Then Colo’s husband comes from France intent on taking her back home with him and Colo must make a difficult decision about her future.
I’m sorry to have to report that despite what may have been an earnest effort, the film Cactus sinks beneath the weight of pretentiousness. Director/writer Cox seems intent on making sure we appreciate the beauty of the Australian outdoors, so he drags his film to a standstill every few minutes in order to pan across the skyline or through the woods. This is obviously intended to make us think that we’re watching a story of some weight and significance. We certainly get our appetite whetted to visit Australia, but any interest in the story unfolding on screen is soon lost — not that it’s a very compelling story anyway, as acted by the two principals, Isabelle Huppert (as Colo) and Robert Menzies (as Robert). There’s no emotional spark between the two evident on the screen, and we’re never convinced that they’re other than two actors going through the motions of performing a script.
There are problems with the script itself, for the film is populated with individuals that seem to drift in and out throughout the narrative. These other characters are never properly developed. For example, the character of the young aboriginal woman Banduk who lives with Robert as his housekeeper/companion suggests a deeper relationship than is ever really resolved. Also, the actions of the couple with whom Colo is visiting also implies an interesting background as well as a troubled current relationship that again go frustratingly unexplained.
I suppose it’s necessary to acknowledge the symbolism of the title and the many cactus references that spring up throughout the story (cactus given as birthday gifts, cactus discussed at the meeting of the neighborhood gardening society, a cactus collection at Robert’s house). Cactus here represents love — it can be difficult (or prickly); it can survive, if only barely, with little attention (or water); it can be unearthed or resuscitated by the right person (or nutrient) at the right time or place (perhaps transplanted); and so on. It’s all a little too forced and obvious.
Image’s DVD of Cactus is a disappointing effort, although I suspect it’s the source material that’s at fault. The image is presented full frame, which from the look of the film, appears to be the correct framing. Possibly the film was shot mainly with television in mind. The image quality, however, is a problem, as there is excessive graininess in many scenes, both daytime and night-time. Colours appear correctly rendered, but are somewhat muted, and image sharpness is often lacking.
The sound is delivered in Dolby Digital mono and does the job fine. There’s some nice chamber music used at times that sounds about as good as a mono soundtrack can make it. As with another of its recent discs, Image sees some need to offer an isolated score, but I don’t see what benefit its availability on the disc offers in this case. Dialogue didn’t interfere with the music on the film’s basic soundtrack and the music isn’t made available in any hi fidelity mode on the isolated score.
Cactus is a pretentious trifle that has little to recommend it. The best thing one can say is that you may wish to see more of Australia after you’ve seen the film. You’ll certainly have had more than enough of the film’s protagonists despite the number of breaks we get from them when director Cox decides to pan his camera around the Australian flora. Image’s DVD does nothing to enhance the film’s limited attributes.