The Goddess of 1967 is a film which certainly aims high, and if it doesn't entirely come off, when it succeeds it does so very well. Clara Law (Clara Law Cheuk-yiu) was born in Macau in 1957 and migrated to Hong Kong at the age of ten. She directed her first six features (plus one segment of the 1994 portmanteau film Erotique) before relocating to Australia with her husband Eddie Ling-Ching Fong, the producer and co-writer of Goddess. Law's first feature on Australian turf, Floating Life (1996), specifically deals with the immigrant experience, portraying a Hong Kong family who move to Australia to live with their daughter who has established a successful career Down Under. Law earned an Australian Film Institute award nomination as Best Director (Scott Hicks won for Shine).
Goddess is in essence a road movie. A well-off young Japanese man, listed in the credits as JM, (Rikiya Kurokawa) has a dream of owning a Citroën DS (pronounced “déesse”, the word for goddess, in French). It was a car driven by Alain Delon (cue black and white still from Le samouraï, though that's actually a colour film). JM finds an offer of a 1967 model via the Internet. He travels to Australia to collect it, he finds a scene of carnage: the owner and his wife are dead, with blood and brain matter splattering the floor and walls. Sitting in the house is a blind teenaged girl, credited as BG (Rose Byrne). She says the car really belongs to someone else and persuades him to drive her there. This storyline is really the frame for several lengthy flashbacks, to his life in Japan and both her childhood and that of her mother Marie (Elise McCredie, in the second of only two big-screen credits, with much work on TV) with her abusive grandfather (Nicholas Hope). Both have darkness in their pasts.
Law's eye is not in doubt, and one thing Goddess is, is a very visually striking film, deliberately non-naturalistic (rear-projected driving scenes, solarised train-journey sequences in Tokyo, text interludes filling in background information about the car). In some ways Goddess feels like a film from a newer director rather than one with seven previous features under her belt, the work of someone flexing her muscles and seeing what she can do. Dion Beebe's camerawork is a definite plus, making use of filters to alter the colour schemes in a way that would no doubt be done digitally in post-production nowadays. Rose Byrne, twenty when she made this, had made an impression the previous year opposite Heath Ledger in Two Hands, gives a strong performance in the leading role, spunky, funny and disturbing rather like the film itself. Rikiya Kurokawa, given the less showy role, acquits himself very well. Nicholas Hope is hampered by an odd wig and an even odder accent in the flashback sequences.
The film could fairly be accused of self-indulgence, for example an over-extended dance sequence to “Walk Don't Run”, and an overextended if funny sequence where JM gets on the wrong side of a lizard on the road. The film certainly runs aground in its last third with an extended flashback going back thirty years to Marie's childhood with her father. But there's plenty to admire in it as well, even if it does not add up to the sum of its parts. And I'd rather see something that tries to do too much rather than something that plays safe.
Considering that Floating Life was nominated for three AFI Awards, Goddess was oddly nominated for none at all. However, Byrne won Best Actress at Venice for this performance. Goddess was shown at festivals (such as the 2000 London Film Festival, the 2001 Australian Film Festival) but has had no commercial release in the UK, nor any television showing that I can trace.
Palace Film's Australian DVD of The Goddess of 1967 is dual-layered in PAL format and encoded for all regions. The DVD begins with the “You Wouldn't Steal a Car” anti-piracy commercial.
The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it announces its presence early on, with some directional effects and some heavy bass rumbles. Most of the dialogue is in English, though some exchanges in Japanese have fixed electronic subtitles. No problems with audio synch, but unfortunately there are no subtitles for the hard of hearing.
The making-of featurette (27:00) is presented in 4:3 but the picture is variously letterboxed and pillarboxed within that frame. It is divided into sections headed “a story of...” the final words being such as “goddess” (dealing with the car) and “being in the dark” (how Byrne, and Bree Beadman, who plays BG at age nine, were cast and how they coped with playing blind, including test footage), “a different language” (Kurokawa's casting and his initially limited English) and so on, which much to-camera input from Law standing in a park (though at one point oddly in black and white rather than colour).
The extras are concluded by a rather lengthy (3:23) theatrical trailer, presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1, text filmographies for Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hope, Clara Law and Eddie Ling-Ching Fong, a nineteen-image stills gallery (not self-navigating: click Next to advance) and four trailers for other films released on DVD by Palace. These are Facing Windows, The Best Man's Wedding, Love's Brother and The Rage in Placid Lake, the last of which also features Rose Byrne.