Set at a girls’ boarding school in 1900, shot with dreamy sunlit photography, scored with Zamfir panpipes, and run through with an inexplicable tension. Great mood movie, providing no answers at the end, made fifteen years after unsolved disappearance drama L’Avventura.
The girls go on a field trip to the base of a mountain, are “forbidden any tomboy foolishness in the matter of exploration,” except for mute Sarah who is forced to stay behind at the school, which seems to be a place where rich girls wear all white and learn poetry. During naptime, four girls get up and walk up the mountain, led by Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert of The Draughtsman’s Contract) and separately I think, a teacher also wanders off. One girl, complainy Edith, runs back screaming. The rest awaken, search until dark then return to the school.
After a days-long search party, rich Michael (Dominic Guard, the lead boy in The Go-Between five years earlier) and servant Albert (John Jarratt, baddie of Wolf Creek), young men who witnessed the girls at one point, begin their own search and come across one of the missing girls, who requires medical treatment and finally leaves the school, never speaking to anyone about what happened or where the others might be.
Albert wearing Michael’s hat:
Principal Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts of O Lucky Man) tells mute Sarah, whose best friend is still missing, that her bills haven’t been paid and she’ll be sent to an orphanage. Sarah commits suicide, which is the last straw in the school’s quickly failing reputation. Weird detail: Albert is revealed as Sarah’s long-lost brother, though I don’t think they ever meet. In postscript, the school closes and Mrs. Appleyard dies attempting to climb the mountain.
Sarah with Principal Appleyard:
Also in the movie: Jacki Weaver (who I just saw as a murdered aunt in Stoker) as a sexy maid.
Horror need not always be a long-fanged gentleman in evening clothes or a dismembered corpse or a doctor who keeps a brain in his gold fish bowl. It may be a warm sunny day, the innocence of girlhood and hints of unexplored sexuality that combine to produce a euphoria so intense it becomes transporting, a state beyond life or death. Such horror is unspeakable not because it is gruesome but because it remains outside the realm of things that can be easily defined or explained in conventional ways.
E. Roginski for Film Quarterly:
The use of Gheorghe Zamphier’s Pan Pipes is insidious and mesmerizing. The notes from the pipes, echoing an ageless music of the hills begins early in the film to indicate the powerful presence of something primeval. It is played in counter-point to the sophisticated music of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, the music of the civilized world. These two strains of music, then, struggle for attention and dominance throughout the film.