Movie Review – Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Two pretty people, their disturbed relationship and a baffling true story.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Tom Munday 

Based on Helen Garner’s 2004 book, Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law, this docudrama proves truth is stranger than fiction. Set in 1994, the movie follows law student Anu Singh (Maggie Naouri) and nice-guy Joe Cinque’s (Jerome Meyer) relationship. Over several years, Singh’s studies are frayed by her steadily collapsing mind. Her mental incapacity clouds her judgment, leading to her killing Cinque with a heavy cocktail of rohypnol and heroin. Singh and her accomplice Madhavi Rao (Sacha Joseph) were later charged with his murder.

Director Sotiris Dounoukos’ script depicts a steadily degrading situation from all sides. Multiple points of view are presented, with Cinque, Singh, their friends and family members getting equal development. The relationship-drama aspects are frighteningly accurate. Donoukos captures every important expression, emotion and mannerism valuable to human interaction. The story, however, is difficult to keep up with. Singh’s illness is brushed over or explained away. It’s hard to tell whether she’s wacky, irrational, super-villainous or all of the above.

The movie flips between true crime and melodrama sensibilities. Obsessed with the story, Dounoukos promises to stick to the essential facts. However, his characters are unlikeable and unrealistic. According to this version, Singh’s friends are 100% content with her oncoming suicide attempt. In addition, none of them bat an eye when her intentions turn more sinister.

This uneven and strange crime-drama evokes many familiar elements. Dounoukos’ direction aims for the heavily stylised visuals of recent crime thrillers (Gone Girl). He delivers several over-the-top flourishes with the movie’s emotionless aura stretching across every hazy, colourless frame. More so, its Phillip Glass-esque score builds its cloying atmosphere and crushing sense of dread.

The lead performers turn potentially pretentious and misguided material into a conversation starter. Naouri is a revelation; her cool girl meets wackjob performance deserves award consideration. Meyer’s portrayal of Cinque is heartbreaking. This doomed protagonist, standing by Singh at every unexpected turn, is a flawed yet loveable guy trapped in a tough situation.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a thought-provoking debut feature. Dounoukos grasps onto key details, however, in switching between drama flick and true crime constantly, his reach exceeds his grasp.

 Joe Cinque’s Consolation is available in Australian cinemas from October 13

Image courtesy of Consolation Pictures

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