“People are different underneath, like bad different,” says young Heidi at a smoky club toward the beginning of the film Somersault. That is exactly what she experiences throughout the film, as she uses her good looks and rising sexuality out of adolescent exploration and naiveté. From making out with her mother’s boyfriend, to using tools of seduction in an attempt to get a job, to picking up older men at clubs and parties, the blonde teen digs herself into a deeper hole of trouble and loneliness with each thoughtless act. When her mother kicks her out of the house, Heidi finds herself doing a ‘somersault’ into the ugliness of the world before she is ready for it: Her coworker’s father uses an evil secret as a weapon against her, the kind woman who provides Heidi with a flat is the mother of a murderer, and the men with whom she sleeps with all seem to be the same dreadful person.
Directed by Cate Shortland, Somersault has won 13 awards from the Australian Film Institute. It is a film definitely worth seeing, filled with both beautiful cinematography and enticingly flawed characters played by talented actors. Set in striking Australia, the open skies and the snow-speckled green landscapes of early winter are displayed in explicit detail. The plot itself is centered solely on the perplexed Heidi, the much older Joe whom Heidi meets at a club, and their relationship. The dark-haired and scruffy Joe is never filmed without an alcoholic beverage in his hand, which he uses to cope with his unexplained misery. He also lives at home with his parents and acts with indifference toward everything around him. This includes Heidi’s undying and desperate attempts to gain his affection and acceptance. It was both comical and uncomfortable watching Heidi immaturely asking Joe if “he was her boyfriend” during a candlelit dinner and grasping for his hand at inappropriate times (which he usually responded to by taking a swig of beer). The audience couldn’t help but laugh during one captivating scene in which Heidi turns on the stereo and dances foolishly around in black pantyhose over big underwear. This maneuver of sexual stimulation displays both the innocence and promiscuity of her character that is apparent throughout the film.
A realistic appeal is given to viewers with a documentary styled format and zoomed in images and metaphors. The film accurately centers on the sexuality and loneliness of Heidi and Joe, the mistakes that they make, and how those mistakes affect one another as well as those around them. It is sometimes hard to watch and easy to feel sympathetic towards Heidi’s unforgettable and undeveloped self, even when she gets herself caught up in idiotic situations. During the film’s climax, Heidi’s teary explanation to Joe for her actions of participating in a near threesome is simplistic, frank and touching: “I didn’t wanna be by myself.”
Heidi is figuratively doing a somersault by herself throughout most of the film: at the smoky haze of parties, at her monotonous job of stocking food, and while lying next to men during the early hours of morning. Real somersaults eventually have to come to an end, however, and Heidi’s is no exception, which calls for an interesting conclusion.
Bridget Maxwell can be reached at Br1dgetm@temple.edu.