LOOK BOTH WAYS (Sarah Watt). 100 minutes. Opens Friday (July 28). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN
Look Both Ways won Aussie director Sarah Watt the Discovery Award at last year's TIFF for best first feature. It's a fine debut, even if its themes - life is precious, death is just around the corner, etc - seem commonplace and its execution a bit too pat.
Against the backdrop of a tragic train derailment, a dozen people in an unnamed Australian town deal with loss and love. At the scene of yet another train-related accident, photographer Nick (William McInnes), who's been diagnosed with cancer, meets witness Meryl (Justine Clarke), who's just buried her father. Meryl, as it happens, illustrates dark and dramatic greeting cards, ones that put things in words that ordinary folks can't express.
The fact that one of Meryl's cards eventually ends up in the hands of a grieving character is only one of several cloying coincidences that mar the film. The interlocking narrative device is hard to pull off, especially after the recent success of Crash, and Watt gives us way too many montages of characters looking sad and isolated while a moody ballad wails in the background.
What she adds to the formula are startling hand-painted animation sequences and disturbing photographic ones that give us access to Nick and Meryl's inner lives. Though these sections occasionally distract, they do add texture to an otherwise ordinary story.
The performances are solid, especially Clarke's turn as a wounded woman hesitant about taking a chance. One note, however: if you're a hypochondriac, this film might freak you out.