Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a film that throws up a lot of questions. How much responsibility should society accept in a murder trial? Is a murder a preventable death? To what extent can we describe an inexplicable crime? This Australian film is based on some true events and is adapted from Helen Garner’s award-winning true crime book of the same name. The film is ultimately a fleeting, intense and enigmatic look at a senseless death.
The film marks the feature debut of Sotiris Dounoukos and is adapted for the screen by Matt Rubinstein. Dounoukos was a student at the Australian National University at the time the event took place and the key players were friends with his friends. While it could be argued that Dounoukos is close to the source material, he did embark on some additional research and interviews with a number of the people involved (with the exception of the accused killers.)
The film opens with the panicked emergency call by Anu Singh (Maggie Naouri) as she attempts to get an ambulance for her dying boyfriend, Joe Cinque (Jerome Meyer.) This act proves to be too little too late. Cinque had been drugged with Rohypnol and administered a lethal dose of heroin by Singh.
This story is not a courtroom drama. Instead it attempts to dramatise and piece together the events that led up to Cinque’s death. It begins in 1994 by showing the relationship that unfolds between the promising law student (Singh) and a handsome and caring engineering student named Joe Cinque. The film quickly fast forwards to 1997 where everything seems to unravel.
In time Singh becomes mentally unhinged and a drug addict. She is preoccupied with the notion that she is fat and suffering from various illnesses. She self-medicates herself by taking Ipecac, a drug she claims Cinque introduced to her as a means of weight control. Eventually the deranged Singh decides she will attempt suicide (with help from her friend, Madhavi Rao (Sacha Joseph)) but she is also torn because she doesn’t want to lose her beau. So both young women hold a series of dinner parties where Singh tells her friends about her bizarre plans to die but they fail to raise any red flags about these crazy ideas.
Maggie Naouri does an excellent job of portraying Singh. The film is an intense, emotional rollercoaster where it feels like Cinque’s parents are relegated to the backseat while the audience is given the role of judge, jury and executioner. The film is a disconcerting and frustrating one to watch at times, especially when some aspects (like Anu and Madhavi’s true motivations) seem mysterious, illogical and incomprehensible.
Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a film that throws up lots of questions about an abhorrent, Australian crime. The morals seem to be as complicated as the different relationships that are portrayed here. The film is an intense and poetic look at the horrific crime and while it remains true to the source material, it could have benefited from being turned into a detailed miniseries. In doing so, it could have painted a more complete picture of things. That in itself would have been a bigger consolation for the victim, the poor Joe.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Joe Cinque’s Consolation opens in Australian cinemas on October 13