Film: Coming up from Down Under

Manchester is about to witness a ray of Aussie sunshine. And Emma Vuletic is dazzled
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You first glimpse her blinking brightly behind a glass of wine. She's flirting with a suit: giving him the eye. Her electric smile flickers, and quite quickly you realise the power this woman so effortlessly exudes over suit and screen alike.

Frances O'Connor the actor, like the character she plays in this first scene of Kiss Or Kill, is going for gold. The film, a desert mystery about two lovers on the run, will hopefully do for O'Connor what Dead Calm did for Nicole Kidman, and Oscar and Lucinda is now doing for Cate Blanchett. That is, get her noticed, and probably make her a star. And if Kiss Or Kill doesn't. then maybe Thank God He Met Lizzie will.

O'Connor's is a dynamic screen presence which carries the strength of such luminaries as Judy Davis and Sigourney Weaver. O'Connor beholds that rare gift - a titillating blend of strength, beauty, and intelligence - which follows her like an afterglow across the screen.

I first meet O'Connor at the premiere of Kiss Or Kill at the Australian Film Festival. I am, to be honest, expecting someone flamboyant, hugely enigmatic. perhaps a little crazy. Dressed in black coat and boots, she's hovering around a menagerie of publicists, maintaining a quiet yet confident intensity. She seems a little weary and she either forgets, or refuses, to shake my outstretched hand.

However as soon as I ask about Love and Other Catastrophes - the "shot- in-forty-days and forty nights-on forty-thousand-dollars" scenario of 1996, her eyes light up. It suddenly becomes clear how passionate O'Connor is about her craft.

She readily agrees the past two years have been a wonderful experience. Going from an ultra low-budget student flick (Catastrophes) to Cannes, where the film was well received, and its star readily courted, and finally to Britain where her two latest features will open later this year. In one of the features she stars alongside Cate Blanchett, (Lizzie) in the other she works under Bill (Two if By Sea, Spider and Rose) Bennett.

What was it like working with Bill Bennett? "Amazing," she smiles, "he was really intense, very creative." She pauses momentarily, "Yeah, very intense. He's trippy. His ideas, the way he works. It was a very positive experience, a lot of fun."

The film was largely improvised. She brings an energy to her character which must make casting directors swoon. Against the vast, bleached landscapes O'Connor's alchemy, a sublime mixture of ecstasy and sorrow, confirms her talent and - more importantly - her potential.

And when I tell her how incredible her inordinate climb to fame is, she smiles. A huge, infectious, grateful smile. It gets me in the heart, and suddenly I feel very pleased for her.

In Love And Other Catastrophes she played one half of a student lesbian couple. What was most remarkable was the casual attitude with which O'Connor approached the issue of lesbian screen love, making it funny, endearing and human.

And yet she has this wide-eyed curiosity which could be mistaken for naivety. It'd take a keen and experienced eye to predict - despite her charm - that the girl can do comedy. She's funny. And not in a self conscious, painfully post-modern way. If Catastrophes proved she could do romantic comedy, Kiss Or Kill confirms she can do it with danger.

The publicist has been gushing to me on the phone about how lovely Frances O'Connor is. She's away for the weekend with friends.

Next day. Still no sign of Frances. Or the publicist. Two other agent types confirm she's back, and give me "the agent's number". Aren't you the agent? "God no... we wish." They sigh. "She's lovely," they coo in unison. "Isn't she a fabulous actor?"

Getting past the agent's assistant proves near impossible. She tells me to fax something through. "What exactly?" I ask, bewildered. She doesn't have any answers.

In Australia you'd expect this. After all, she's part of the alleged Brat Pack, which includes four other actors playing in films in the Festival. (Amongst them Miranda Otto (The Well), who incidentally is the. daughter of the middle aged hippy (Barry Otto) living on the nuclear site in Kiss Or Kill, and girlfriend to the groom (Richard Roxborough) in Lizzie.)

The wall has been constructed, and everyone wants some of the action. The girl's already nigh impossible to get hold of, and she's not even a fully fledged star. But next year, if not this one, will most likely be Frances O'Connor's coming of age.

The Australian Film Festival plays at Manchester 15 - 22 April and Edinburgh 24 - 30 April

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