Cactus - screener

you need a subscription to view this film: subscribe - education only


Film by Paul Cox

Year: 1986, 95 mins
Code: PCO-Cactus
ISBN: 978-1-921895-41-8

  • Description
  • About the Artists
  • Reviews
  • Embed / Share

Cactus is the dramatic story of Colo (Isabelle Huppert), a visiting French woman, holidaying in Australia and Robert (Robert Menzies), a blind lecturer at a training school for the blind.

The film opens with a car accident. Colo regains consciousness in hospital, and discovers she has been left sight-less in one eye. As the film unfolds, Colo's subjective viewpoint grows progressively more blurred, whilst in the drama, her doctor and Australian friends conceal from her the possibility that total blindness may be only a matter of time. Colo has no resources to cope with the impending tragedy, and when she begins to suspect blindness, her withdrawal from the world and her friends becomes complete.

Her host, Tom (Norman Kaye), a cacti fanatic, persuades Colo to join him in attending a gathering at which cacti lovers meet and exchange secrets. One of the members, Robert, who has been blind since birth, despite his handicap, has managed to grow one of the finest collections of cacti in the country. Colo is stunned by his ability to feel things grow, and is touched by his serenity and peace of mind.

Robert has never made love to a woman, or enjoyed the physical pleasures that Colo has experienced. His wit and knowledge surprises and entertains Colo, yet, at the same time, intensifies her sense of isolation and worthlessness. Despite Robert’s reluctant attempt to cheer her up, Colo reaches the bottom of the pit. It is at this point that the mood of the film changes.

Colo is becoming aware of other dimensions in her life, but selfishly, she does not realize that her physical closeness is starting to affect Robert. Inevitably they are drawn closer and closer, and their eventual love-making is an act of extraordinary tenderness and sensuality.

Robert now is thrown into total confusion and chaos. The urgency of his physical awareness replaces the security of his inner-self and when Colo's husband arrives in Australia, Robert is not equipped to cope with his jealousy and anxiety. Colo however, is forced to make a decision about the security of her “old world" and the uncertainties, risks and challenges of her “new world" in which she is confronted with the love and affection, the depth and humour of a man, who, in the eyes of the world, has nothing to offer. She has to make an important decision.

Throughout the film the symbol of the cactus is a recurrent motif. The cactus is a plant that thrives on neglect, and it provides the drama with a brittle but telling edge. Both characters have a totally different concept of what they “see". For Robert it is a blend of imagination and legend. For Colo, it is a fusion of memory and impulse - two blind people teaching one another how to see.

The moral is clear. Domination by our surface desires cannot bring us happiness. The neglect of our inner self prevents us from discovering the real nature of our consciousness.

Director: Paul Cox
Producer: Jane Ballantyne, Paul Cox
Paul Cox, Bob Ellis, Norman Kaye
: Yuri Sokol

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Robert Menzies, Norman Kaye

Born in Holland and settled in Melbourne since the mid-‘60s, Paul Cox is an auteur of international acclaim, having received numerous international awards.  He is one of the most prolific makers of films in Australia, with numerous features, shorts and documentaries to his name. He is the recipient of many special tributes and retrospectives at film festivals across the world, including a major retrospective at the Lincoln Centre in New York in 1992.

His films of the early and mid ‘80s – Lonely Hearts (1981), Man of Flowers (1983), and My First Wife (1984) – were highly acclaimed both locally and internationally. 
Man of Flowers premiered in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, and went on to win Best Film at the 1984 Valladolid Film Festival as well as Best Foreign Film at the 1991 Warsaw Film Festival.
Cactus premiered in Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986 and Vincent won the Jury Prize at the 1988 Istanbul International Filmdays.
A Woman's Tale won the Grand Prix at the 1992 International Flanders Film Festival in Ghent and Exile screened in competition at the 1994 Berlin International Film Festival.

More recently, Cox's highly acclaimed feature Innocence (2000) won massive audience and critical acclaim, including Best Film and the People's Choice Award at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival; and 5 Australian IF awards including Best Film, Independent Filmmaker of the Year for Paul Cox, and Best Actress for Julia Blake.

Cox’s career continues currently, with features such as Human Touch (2004) and Salvation (2008).

Quoting IMDb:
Paul Cox triumphed again with this unsentimental yet heartfelt story of blindness. What is most remarkable about the film is its refusal to sentimentalize the effect of blindness on its protagonist. A typical Hollywood treatment of the subject probably would have been too sentimental and melodramatic. Here, Cox evokes subtlety and nuance to display a myriad of emotions. It's very much a human film with a true sense of cinema. The breathtakingly static panoramic opening is the most cinematic you will ever witness, demanding the viewer's participation in equating film with art. Huppert gives her usual quality performance, aided by the familiar Australian cast Cox so often uses for his films.

Paul Cox is one of the most important filmmakers to come out of Australia ... he is a filmmaker of incredible energy, persistence and vision - all qualities which are crucial to survive as a filmmaker. He is also uncompromising in fulfilling his vision which is almost always achieved with comparatively small budgets of about $1 million. As a director, he has an ongoing screen relationship with many of Australia's greatest actors. The themes in his films - isolation, faith, hope, love, survival - remain the same and reoccur over and over, but above all else his films are about human frailty ...

Philip Tyndall, "Paul Cox - Filmmaker", Senses of Cinema



Share this video

Start at (H:MM:SS) and end at (H:MM:SS)


Embed this video

Start at (H:MM:SS) and end at (H:MM:SS)