Indie Watch: Goldfield
A couple months back, I reviewed a short film called The Winking Boy by Australian director Marcus Dineen. The Winking Boy featured gifted writing and acting from Aussie newcomer Alan King. I was, and am still, impressed by both Dineen and King’s ability to quickly and assuredly capture the essences of both genre and character within a relatively short run time. Now the partners are back with Goldfield, a short psychological thriller and period drama with a small cast of characters. This time, King is in the writer-director’s chair, with Dineen handling the cinematography.
A claustrophobic pressure-cooker about greed and madness during the Australian Gold Rush of the 1850s, Goldfield forgoes sweeping historical generalizations in favor of a tight allegory. The film begins be peering through the bushes at Guillaume (Dino Marnika), a French prospector whose camp is infiltrated by a mysterious nude man (King) who appears to have been tortured. The two men speak in clipped French, drawing on a past familiarity about which we’re kept in the dark. Eventually, Guillaume’s golden payload is revealed and all hell breaks loose.
Goldfield is a cinematic crescendo that owes a lot to Werner Herzog. The threat of physical violence is palpable throughout the film, but the horror elements concern the mind more than the body. As King ramps up the tension, he makes sure to keep Guillaume’s golden brick in the frame, as a lurid reminder of the greed’s corrupting power. As metaphor, it’s heavy handed and may not have the imagistic power of Kinski floating alone on a raft being taken over by rampaging monkeys, but the gold gives off Hellish shadows that do their creepy job.
While its story and characterization are top-notch, Goldfield’s performances are a little off. The film was written and performed in French by actors who clearly aren’t primarily Francophone. Although this linguistic point is mainly nitpicky, the verisimilitude of the film is somewhat undercut by the stilted and strangely English-esque French being spoken by the characters. As a result, the dialogue, when it’s not distracting, falls flat. This is truly tragic, because the film’s script and story are very good.
Despite the near-French of the dialogue, the film looks and sounds great. King’s sound design features a booming drone that makes your skin crawl and it’s complemented by Dineen’s beautiful chiaroscuro cinematography. Ultimately, this is another King-Dineen production that’s smart, taut, and occasionally profound. If your wallet contains more moths than cash, Goldfield will make you feel better about it.