Starring: Nammi Le, Peter O’Brien, Andrew Hazzard,Ivy Mak, David Field
Runtime: 105 mins. Reviewed in May 2012
Writer-director, John Duigan, has not made a film in Australia since Sirens in 1994. Prior to that, he had made several significant films and television series (Winter of Our Dreams, Far East, The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting, Vietnam). He also made Romero and the film about Catholic war photographer, Damien Parer, Fragments of War. He has shown a great interest in different Australian stories as well as an interest in Australia’s relationship with Asia. He has also shown a great interest in ideas, sometimes philosophical, sometimes religious. He has brought them together in Careless Love – or, perhaps, not always together, sometimes story simply juxtaposed with idea sequences.
Careless Love is a film about prostitution (as well as other themes). Which raises questions about the meaning of the title and what love really is. There have been several Australian films about prostitution. In 2007, The Jammed explored human trafficking with Asian connections to Australia. The issues were those of justice, humanity and rights. In 2011, Sleeping Beauty was a psychosexual drama focusing on a student paying her way through university by working as a prostitute. The issues were predominantly psychological. The central character of Careless Love is a student, working as an escort to get money for her parents so that they will not lose their home. The emphasis is far less on the psychological – in fact, the audience has to give a lot of thought to characters, their motivations and behaviour, their psychology. Rather, the focus here is social and sociological. The student herself is involved in Social Studies. Her lecturer, played by John Duigan himself, appears throughout the film, teaching, raising questions about religion, fundamentalist beliefs and brainwashing, about morality, relationships and prostitution. Dramatically, these university scenes sit alongside the narrative, leaving the audience to make the connections until the final thesis is presented by the student after all her experiences.
The student is Linh, who came with her boat people parents from Vietnam when she and her brother were little. Some of this parallels the experiences of the star, Nammi Le. Nammi Le is a compelling presence on screen, the audience gazing at her. However, part of this mesmerising is her passivity, especially with her clients. She has no personal scruples about her choice to be an escort. She is partly fastidious in her choices of jobs. She is devoted to her parents even as she deceives them.
She and her friend, Mint (Ivy Mak in a vigorous performance) are driven each night by a friendly Dion (David Field). We are taken to several of the clients, young and old, local and Japanese. The film is rather reticent until later in the film in showing nudity and sexual activity. She meets an American, Peter Obrien as a former Blackwater agent in Iraq, who befriends her and serves as a sounding board for her as she gradually reveals herself to him. This leads to some melodrama as well as a visit from his wife and son from Baltimore – and a final humane touch.
Linh compartmentalises her life, boarding with friends, then moving in with a law student who works in the local bar. She visits her parents as well as the bank managers. She is very efficient in money management.
The American warns her that she is in danger of being found out. When she is, it leads to exposure, humiliation, tension in relationships (and some ugly behaviour on the part of associates as well as the exploitative media). But, Linh is a strong character and is not afraid of other people’s opinions.
Most of the sequences are fairly brief. And, there are many characters and episodes. Which means that the film is working on several levels and audiences have to be responding swiftly, dealing emotionally and intellectually with the drama. But, it is all unified by Linh’s story.
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