Sunday, December 26, 2010

Maslin Beach (1997)

Maslin Beach is an Australian film billed as a romantic comedy set in the context of a clothes optional beach. The beach itself is real (located south of Adelaide), as is its clothes optional status. If you read the IMDb link above (in particular the reviews) you'll get a good synopsis of the plot. The film can be easily streamed directly from Netflix.

My impression is that the film is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I'm thrilled to see any filmmaker attempt to set a movie in a nude or clothes optional environment. There's some fine camera work (the landscape shots are nicely done, and the sunset near the end is absolutely gorgeous), and great care is taken to simply treat the nudity of the cast and the extras as a given, without making a big deal out of it. I like that this isn't a movie about a nude beach, but one in which the nudity of the beachgoers is simply coincidental. Great care is also taken in casting: the actors are for the most part strikingly average. There are a couple "beautiful people", but the remaining actors and actresses could well be anyone who might frequent a nude beach in all shapes, sizes, and ages. In other words, the viewer gets a fair portrayal of the human body, and generally fair portrayal of nude beachgoers. For the most part, this isn't a particularly "sexy" film, which from a naturist standpoint is a good thing. Yes, there is some discussion of such matters as sexual intimacy and infidelity, but in a manner that would seem fairly tame (PG-13 maybe). There is also some implied sexual intercourse at the beach and an attempt by an older man to solicit sexual favors from one of the film's female protagonists (both of which would be huge no-nos according to prevailing standards of nude beach etiquette). Other than that, the dialogue is quite mundane - some of it actually funny.

Now, the negatives are tangible. The acting is very uneven. A couple of the primary actors seem to do a decent enough job at breathing life into their characters, while some of the other characters just seem too flat and unconvincing. Part of the problem may stem from the writing. There is a plot to be found (basically the ending of one romance and the tentative beginnings of a new romance), but often the film seems like a bunch of unrelated sketches - a few profound, a few genuinely humorous, with the rest as filler. Perhaps this is as intended. Regardless, many viewers are likely to get befuddled with the lack of a sense of focus. I suspect those who've panned it have done so precisely for that reason - that and the writing for some scenes is just plain mediocre. There are substantial stretches of viewing that I found un-engaging.

Maslin Beach doesn't fit any particular genre. Those seeking porn will be terribly bored. Nor is it necessarily an art film, or a comedy (at least in the sense we Americans understand the term, "comedy") although it does have its artsy and comedic moments. Ultimately the film can be taken as a few slices of life at a day on the beach - presented as nakedly as the cast members themselves. Neither a classic nor a disaster, it is a film that simply is - nothing more, nothing less.

As an aside, I hope to see more writers and directors try to take on films in which the nudity at a beach or naturist resort is treated as coincidental, rather than as the focal point. Done right, filmmakers might not necessarily get blockbusters, but they may produce credible, award-winning works of art, and in the process do justice to a beautiful way of life.

Still photos found at loon pond.

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