Sydney. Gavin (David Bonney) is in the last stages of AIDS, and he is surrounded by his friends, including Charlie (Vince Colosimo), also gay, and Anna (Maria Theodorakis) and Gavin's brother Simon (Nathaniel Dean). Years before, they had made a pact to Gavin to help him to die when the time came. Now is that time, and Gavin is given an overdose of morphine...but he still clings to life. In desperation, Charlie smothers Gavin. As the days pass, with funeral preparations to be made, and Gavin's family coming over to stay, Gavin, Anna and Simon are forced to deal with their actions.
Walking on Water the feature directing debut for Macau-born director Tony Ayres, following several shorts and documentaries. Written by Roger Monk, it's a strongly-acted study in the effect on a group of friends after the death of one of their number, and in particular the effect of Charlie's desperate actions. Charlie in particular finds it hard to deal with and goes into a self-destructive spiral, of gambling and substance abuse, especially the left-over morphine. Anna and Simon both find solace in sex, and not with their regular partners.
Walking on Water is certainly well made, and Monk, Ayres and his cast and crew do a good job of keeping the film away from mawkishness on one hand and morbidity on the other. However they may have gone too far: while we can understand the way the characters act, if not always sympathise with them, they tend to remain at arm's length. While there is humour here, often of a blackish kind, maybe there isn't quite enough. Clearly, with a subject like this, individual viewers' mileage may vary and some of you will find this much more moving than I did. Also, apart from brief stills and a pre-credits sequence, we never see anything of Gavin except as a man in the final stages of terminal disease. We have to infer how much his friendship meant to his friends when he was alive and in health, and that's not quite enough.
Ayres uses handheld cameras a lot, though not so much that they become intrusive. He and DP do sometimes overuse digital postproduction trickery, washing some scenes in orange, others in a cold blue tone. Ayres has gone on to make another feature, The Home Song Stories in 2007 (not seen by me) and work on television, including producing and directing two episodes of the 2011 miniseries The Slap. At the time of writing, a third feature, The Turning, a portmanteau film based on short stories by Tim Winton, is in post-production.
Walking on Water was nominated for nine Australian Film Institute Awards (now the AACTA Awards), more than any other film that year. Oddly, those nominations included Best Director for Ayres but not Best Film, which was won by Rabbit-Proof Fence, another film I found less moving than it should have been. Walking on Water won five AFI Awards: Best Actress for Maria Theodorakis, Best Supporting Actor for Nathaniel Dean, Best Supporting Actress for Judi Farr, and for Roger Monk for his original screenplay and for Reva Childs for her editing. The film played some festivals in the UK (the Australian Film Festival and the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, both in London, among them) but has not had UK distribution in the cinema nor on DVD, nor has it been shown on UK television.
Walking on Water is released by Madman Entertainment. Unusually for one of their releases, it is encoded not just for Region 4 but for all regions.
The DVD transfer is in the intended ratio of 1.85:1, slightly windowboxed, and is anamorphically enhanced. This DVD dates from 2003 so before the advent of Blu-ray, but it has clearly benefited from a HD master. Walking on Water was shot in 35mm but as I say above has clearly had work done digitally in post-production. The DVD transfer is sharp and colourful with strong blacks and good shadow detail.
There are two soundtracks available, in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). The former is the one of choice, with dialogue, music and sound effects well balanced. The surrounds get used fairly extensively for ambience and some directional effects. The subwoofer gets a workout too, especially in a scene set in a nightclub. Regrettably, no hard-of-hearing subtitles are included.
There is no commentary on this disc, but quite a number of extras otherwise. They begin with “Working on Water” (15:03), a making-of featurette presented in 4:3. This is mostly made up of interviews discussing the inception and making of the film, interviewees including Roger Monk, Tony Ayres, producer Liz Watts, actors Vince Colosimo and Maria Theodorakis. We also see rehearsal footage and an improvisation of an argument between Charlie and Anna. Robert Humphreys says that he and Ayres took visual inspiration in Nan Goldin's still photography.
There are three extracts from the SBS Movie Show (12:27), the long-running Australian television film-review programme (since 2005 on a different channel, ABC, and called At the Movies) presented by Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton. This includes an interview with Tony Ayres and Pomeranz and Stratton's actual review of the film where he gives it four and a half stars, she four. Next up is the theatrical trailer (2:26), presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1
Deleted Scenes follow, with a brief (0:17) introduction from Tony Ayres. There are ten scenes in all, with a Play All option, running 14:24, with an optional commentary from Ayres. The scenes are “Honeywheats” (1:23), “Eulogy” (2:48), “Simon and Anna Pash” (1:02), “Gavin's Ring” (1:51), “Simon Stays” (1:38)), “The Will” (0:47), “Gotta Smoke?” (0:40), “Frank's Moving Out” (0:59), “Go Home Simon” (2:17) and “Charlie, Carl and the Mirror” (1:01). As Ayres reveals, these were all removed for most of the usual reasons, such as pace and redundancy.
The Press Kit section is made up of five subsections. Cast and Crew Biographies are multi-page text screens, photo included, concerning eight actors and nine crewmembers. Another single text page. promotes the soundtrack album. “Promotion” features six pages of critics' quotes from the Australian media, and “Awards and Nominations” is self-explanatory, seven pages. Page 7, detailing the IF Awards, links to footage (3:11) of Roger Monk accepting the one IF Award that Walking to Water won, for Best Screenplay.
The final item features footage of a Q & A session following a screening of Walking on Water at the Kino Dendy, Melbourne, on 26 September 2002. This featured Tony Ayres, Vince Colosimo and Maria Theodorakis and was hosted by Madeline Swain. There are fifteen questions in all over three pages, and the answers play as video footage in a small box in the middle-left of the page. The questions are quite wide-ranging, from asking if the film is a black comedy (the script was funnier, Ayres says) to discussing the imagery of water.
Finally, “Madman Propaganda” comprises five trailers for other DVD releases: Nine Queens, Rain, The Tracker, Harvard Man and Dinner Rush.