Directed by: Ray Lawrence
Starring: Barry Otto, Lynette Curran, Helen Jones, Gia Carides, Jeff Truman, Tim Robertson
Back in 1985, Ray Lawrence's Bliss was the art house sensation. It had created quite a stir at Cannes -- as much for the fact that about 400 viewers walked out of the movie in disgust (mostly at the same moment -- the film's notorious "sardine scene") as from the accolades it drew. No Australian film had ever had that kind of impact. There'd simply never been anything quite like it. When Bliss was later shown on Australian TV, the network was inundated with outraged phone calls, including one irate viewer who classically referred to it as "that disgusting, filthy, depraved film you showed the other night," and then asked, "when are you showing it again?" It's that kind of movie -- a love it or hate it affair that can also be a love it and hate it affair.
In essence, it's the story of an advertising man, Harry Joy (a magnificent performance from Barry Otto), who suffers a heart attack and is clinically dead for four minutes -- an event that changes his life forever. He becomes obsessed with "being good," while an awareness of the incredible moral decay going on around him in his very family becomes ever clearer to him. The film then charts his attempts at finding personal salvation -- with many a bizarre stop along the way, including a spell in a magnificently corrupt insane asylum where his very identity is stripped from him.
Viciously funny, scathing in its satire and damning in its inescapable truths, it's an often difficult film to watch, but more, it's an impossible film to judge until you've seen the whole movie. What starts out as fantasticated and very quirky satire will become unsettling and then starkly horrific to a point that is almost unbearable in its bleakness. And then something amazing happens in the film's last 15 to 20 minutes -- revealing what was always there from the beginning -- and Bliss turns around on itself offering one of the most tender and moving climaxes I've ever seen. Bliss in fact becomes bliss.
Unfortunately, the film has been allowed to languish in recent years in this country. With revival houses a thing of the past and no DVD release, it's become criminally unknown. Its own country has treated it better, producing a splendid restored copy of the film as Lawrence originally intended, with a different narration and a full 18 minutes of footage added. This is the version being screened. Don't miss it -- and please, don't walk out after the sardine scene (you'll know it when you see it).
— reviewed by Ken Hanke