To Have & To Hold Review
Jack (Tcheky Karyo) is visiting Melbourne when he meets Kate (Rachel Griffiths). Struck by her resemblance to his wife Rose, who died in an accident in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, he pursues Kate. They become lovers and Jack persuades her to come back with him to live in the jungle. However it soon becomes clear that Jack is obsessed by Rose, continually watching videos of her and drinking. This escalates to his forcing her to wear one of Rose's dresses and changing her hairstyle to resemble hers. And he has taken Kate's passport, so she can't leave...
John Hillcoat's second feature was made eight years after his first, Ghosts...of the Civil Dead (spot the large poster for this film in the Melbourne video shop), and it was another nine years before he followed it with The Proposition. I saw To Have & To Hold at a preview screening in 1998. It seemed a misfire then, and watching it on DVD again, it seems a misfire still. In contrast with the bleached-out heat of Papua New Guinea (well captured in Andrew de Groot's camerawork), Jack's romance with Kate is told in a visually stylised manner reminiscent of romantic melodramas of the 1950s, by directors like Douglas Sirk. Think rich, saturated colours, sweeping camera movements...you can just see the airquotes round these scenes. But this rather undermines the rest of the film, distancing us when a more full-blooded approach would have been more effective. I imagine the voiceover quotes from the romantic novel Kate is writing are intended to give the same sense of ironic distance. Before too long, Jack is channelling James Stewart in Vertigo and generally going off the deep end. By the time we reach the violent climax – which, as well as some sexual content, is responsible for the DVD's 18 certificate – we have long since ceased to care. Rachel Griffiths, at a time when she was giving hugely impressive performances in film after film, as well as on TV's Six Feet Under, does her best, but Tcheky Karyo, awkward outside his native language, is stranded. The music score is by Hillcoat's usual collaborators Mick Harvey, Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld.
The Disc: Tartan's release of To Have & To Hold comprises a single-layered DVD encoded for all regions.
The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The colour scheme in most of the film is dominated by yellows, the short sequences in Melbourne by blues. This is not as sharp as more recent DVDs of more recent films, likely as not transferred from HD masters, but it's acceptable enough.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround, with the rears used a lot for ambience – plenty of insects in the Papuan exteriors. There are no subtitles available, apart from fixed ones translating some native and pidgin dialogue.
The only extra is the trailer (2:08), which is in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. There are plenty of plot spoilers, a good indication that this film was not an especially easy sell.