In 2004, a benchmark was set for Australian filmmaking when writer-director Cate Shortland’s feature debut, Somersault, was chosen for Official Selection at Cannes, before winning 13 AFI awards, including best film. Somersault is a passionate and hypnotic film full of subtle performances and overwhelming emotions. While the film is bursting with sexual encounters, it is the relationships Heidi (Abbie Cornish) has with her mother Nicole (Olivia Pigeot), Joe Cameron (Sam Worthington) and “herself” that prove the most mesmerising.
The most iconic scene occurs a mere half-hour into the film. After speaking to Bianca (Hollie Andrew) about a job at a service station, Heidi purchases a pair of red gloves and wanders back to her new home at the hotel, singing “Miss Mary Mac” and playing a clapping game with an invisible partner; her bright, new gloves illuminated in front of her against the vast, white expanse surrounding her. Both the sounds and images of Heidi’s game begin to loop, before the picture shifts out of focus at the line, “She lost her mother”.
This is a moment dripping with significance, as it was a confrontation with her mother (after Heidi was caught kissing Nicole’s boyfriend in the film’s early scenes) that was the catalyst for Heidi’s getaway. Not only are her subsequent sexual encounters brutal lessons on human affection, intimacy and the “right” and “wrong” ways to love people, but they are also Heidi’s disillusioned ways of substituting the maternal care and affection she appeared to be lacking.
The colour of Heidi’s gloves is also not without import. Shortland uses bursts of red at various times in the film and for various reasons. Firstly, Heidi finds a discarded pair of ski goggles behind the hotel and holds them to her face, marveling at the now-red landscape before her. This literally illustrates Heidi’s rose-tinted view of the world, in which she sees innocence, goodness and hope, despite being frequently letdown.
Later in the film, Joe holds up a crimson drinking glass he finds in Richard’s (Erik Thompson) house. Judging by his stoic and reserved character, it’s doubtful this was done to suggest his optimism, rather it provides a subtle cue to highlight the similarities between the seemingly dichotomous romantic leads.
The red colour theme is ultimately representative of the romance and passion that grows between Heidi and Joe: they go to dinner in a Chinese restaurant with a red, typically oriental décor (where Heidi swallows a saucer of scarlet chilies after Joe expresses ambivalence towards their relationship); while earlier in the film, during one of their first rendezvous, we see Joe in a red sweater as Heidi dances for him, letting down his guard to show the more playful and affectionate side of his personality.
Heidi is a modern-day equivalent of Picnic at Hanging Rock’s (Peter Weir, 1975) Miranda; a white-blonde, angelic teenage girl, wandering alone through the wilderness. In this case, however, “the wild” is the clean, tranquil snow of Jindabyne, rather than the bushy surrounds of Victoria’s Hanging Rock. Heidi is a Gothic lost girl, an anti-angel without a home. She swims through a blurry sea of white, blue and red, into which men dive in and out, all around her.