“Dark Forces” (aka "Harlequin") won Best Cinematography (Gary Hansen), Best Screenplay (Everett De Roche), and Prize of the International Critics Jury (Simon Wincer) at the Catalonian International Film Festival, and won Best Actor (Robert Powell) at the Paris Film Festival.
The key to understanding Everett De Roche's clever screenplay is to recall the legend of Rasputin, the mad monk who wormed his way into the Russia's royal family before being murdered. Tweaked for the modern age, we now have a faith healer who saves the life of a sick boy, and finds increasing jealousy and mistrust from the father, as the boy and mother turn to our healer for consultation, support, and love.
Australia's cinematic rebirth during the Seventies and Eighties included a collection of very clever, beautifully produced thrillers, that provided career stepping stones for directors and writers wanting a move from episodic television and commercials, to feature filmmaking. A chief creative administrator of these films was producer Antony I. Ginane, whose other productions include "Patrick" (1978), "Thirst" (1979), and "Strange Behavior" (1981) - all recently released on DVD.
In making himself available for commentary tracks, Ginane offers affectionate recollections of filmmaking in the still-youthful Australian industry, yet aiming for broader, international markets. "Harlequin" - as the film was domestically called - ultimately became a very successful release, and both Ginane and director Simon Wincer credit the ace production team for going against the native grain for kitchen sink dramas and creating an elegant production with luscious widescreen cinematography.
Wincer's career has been very eclectic - from animal fables like "Free Willy," to the romantic actioner "The Lighthorsemen" - yet his affection for the Panavision ratio is obvious in his second feature, which takes advantage of Australia's marvelous exterior and interior locations. There's a lot of good production info on the commentary track, and memories of the film's unusual cast, including Broderick Crawford, in one of his final roles; and star Robert Powell, who ironically played the titular figurehead in TV's "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977).
Like Elite's DVDs of "Thirst" and "Strange Behavior," "Dark Forces" includes an isolated mono music track, featuring Brain May's orchestral score.
Note: If you're sensitive about spoilers, do not watch the first image of the animated menu. The first sequence that appears is actually the film's shock ending!
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan