12 November 2021

Has Joe Cinque’s Consolation stood the test of time?

| Jimmy Bernasconi
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Scene from movie

A true-crime drama set in the ACT, Joe Cinque’s Consolation depicts a darker moment in Canberra’s recent history. Photo: ABC.

Based on Helen Garner’s book of the same name, Joe Cinque’s Consolation recounts the real-life events that took place leading up to the death of Joe Cinque, a former ANU student and Canberra resident.

Released to Australian cinemas in 2016, the film gripped audiences across the ACT with its recognisable depictions of Canberra’s suburbs and its intense exploration of relationship woes, the culpability of bystanders and the flexibility of human morality.

Street in Dickson

The streets of Dickson, where Joe Cinque’s Consolation is largely set. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

After viewing Joe Cinque’s Consolation with fresh eyes, you might find that it has gained even more relevance in the five years following its release.

According to director and co-writer Sotiris Dounoukos, the film asks us to consider the nature of collective and individual responsibility and the consequences of inaction.

“For me, the relevance of Helen Garner’s book and the film is that they draw attention to that moment of decision when we’re asked to take action,” she said.

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“Political activism can inform us about the impact of passing the buck, of inaction, and of obscuring the true nature of the world. But in the end, taking action (or not) is informed by what we know, who we listen to, and also our values, our character, and the pressures in our lives.

“As the film explores these ideas, I think it remains timely.”

Director and co-writer Sotiris Dounoukos

Director and co-writer Sotiris Dounoukos (right). Photo: Flickr.

Through its exploration of collective and individual responsibility, Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a wake-up call for those of us who find ourselves increasingly disengaged from our surroundings.

“Watching the film, you wonder how our perception of reality is formed and behaviour is shaped by the stories we’re told, and those we choose to believe,” Dounoukos said.

“For me, it’s an important aspect of understanding the fragmentation of groups and communities. With social networks being so sophisticated and ubiquitous now, I wonder whether that would empower someone to stop a similar tragedy today, or if it would instead highlight our capacity to disconnect even further, despite the different ways at our disposal to stay connected.

“The film hopefully gets each of us to consider our own response to that question.”

Jerome Meyer and Maggie Naouri

Jerome Meyer and Maggie Naouri, who play the two leads in the film. Photo: ABC.

With respect to its style and tone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation finds itself within the true crime genre, which has become increasingly popular in recent years.

According to Dounoukos, there are many reasons for this.

“I think people are interested in the extremes of human behaviour, and maybe true crime is part of that,” she said.

“In terms of form and the development of the genre, I’d be interested in seeing more true crime films explore the impact of the crime on families and communities.”

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Given the potential for new directions in the true crime genre, it is worth considering whether the film would be made any differently if it were produced today.

“I’m sure the film would be different if made today, but not in spirit or intent, as the film is the story we wanted to tell,” Dounoukos said.

“Still, today so much content is made for TV, and therefore offers greater narrative scope. In that case, we may have shown more of university life and Canberra in that period, and how it connected to the crime and the lives of those who witnessed the events that led to the killing of Joe.”

If you’re ever unsure of when to step in and take a stand, Joe Cinque’s Consolation is worth a re-watch.

You can rent or buy Joe Cinque’s Consolation on Apple TV.

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Book was brilliant. Sorry but the film was very disappointing.

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