As this year’s Cannes Film Festival wraps up this weekend, it’s worth shuffling back a few years to revisit a film that made its mark on the Croissette. John Polson made a splash debut with Siam Sunset, leaving the 1999 Cannes Festival with the Golden Rail Award. This success led to a hit run in Australia and five AFI nominations (Australia’s equivalent of the Oscars) including Best Picture.
Siam Sunset stars Linus Roache as Perry, a British paint maker seeking new colors in the Australian outback. On the bumpy bus ride he meets Grace (Danielle Cormack), who’s on the run from her drug-dealing boyfriend. This comic adventure embraces everything from dry humor to surreal weirdness to warm romance, all taking place out in a gorgeously shot wilderness down under.
Siam Sunset functions best as a comedy of cultural differences and prejudices. Its humour derives from its details: in particular, the script (by Max Dann and Andrew Knight) is astutely observant of character, individual as much as national. While Roache’s Perry is initially set up as a stereotypically reserved Englishman, the film soon subverts this cliché. He’s a rare sight in late-90s movies: a middle-class Englishman who inhabits a recognisable late-90s culture. He works in a modern office, lives in a modern house and knows how to make a customer complaint…
The film’s Australians are, by contrast, mostly portrayed as hidebound, inward-looking and self-deluded on the matter of their nation’s greatness. In short, they embody the flaws which used to be attributed to Britons.