Perhaps it’s a little bold to herald him as a new behind-the-camera star of Australian cinema.
But Neil Armfield, the well-loved artistic director of Belvoir Street Theatre’s Company B, has made a damn good stab of turning Luke Davies’ book Candy about a pair of young junkies lost in love and poetry into a piece of fine Australian cinematic drama.
It doesn’t hurt that our own Brokeback cowboy Heath Ledger is onscreen with an Aussie accent against a backdrop of Sydney’s inner west or that Abbie Cornish has stepped out post-Somersault with a fine performance in the film’s title role.
Nor does it hurt that Geoffrey Rush, a long-time collaborator of Armfield, is deliciously malevolent as Casper, the pair’s junkie academic godfather -“ such an excellent ensemble work is Candy.
Dan (Ledger) is a sometime poet and he and artist Candy (Cornish) are madly in love. Dan has a manageable addiction to heroin and Candy is keen to share the illicit part of his life.
The two are addicted to the highs of love and they use heroin to extend the heady first days of love.
But what begins as an afternoon of extravagant delight, of sex laced with poetry and the dreamy haze of a hit of smack descends from heaven to the lows of hell and addiction.
Soon Candy is prostituting herself with Dan’s permission to support their habit. When things are tight, they visit Dan’s mentor, the junkie science professor Casper (Rush), who has a recipe for turning headache tablets into heroin.
Neil Armfield has conjured an often sad but beautiful and poetic tale that rarely falters. There’s a strong supporting cast in Tony Martin and Noni Hazelhurst as Candy’s middle class parents. Martin is the peacemaker to Hazlehurst’s angry controlling mother.
Comparisons with Rowan Woods’s Little Fish are inevitable -“ and not least because Noni Hazelhurst finds herself cast again as the mother of a junkie daughter.
But unlike Little Fish that explored heroin addiction as an attempt to escape poverty, Candy is a love story first and foremost -“ one that explores the m?ge a trio that emerges when a seductive drug like heroin steps between two lovers.
For Candy and Dan, heroin was a way to prolong their happiness until it became the thief that stole it.
Candy is also a film about co-dependence. It’s about how demanding heroin can be as a lover and how it comes to dominate two crazily in love yet smacked up kids who thought taking a hit together was the best sex you could have.