Aussie writer/director Cate Shortland made her feature film debut with Somersault, a coming-of-age drama that is all at once "erotic and unsettling". Fresh-faced newcomer Abbie Cornish stars as Heidi, an adolescent girl whose need for intimacy leads to a painful awakening. Without a high-concept tagline this was never destined for box office glory, but it has scored highly with audiences on the worldwide festival circuit since its unveiling at Cannes in 2004.
Inside The Snow Dome offers an insightful look behind the scenes as cast and crew shoot on location in New South Wales. While production runners decorate the landscape with foam (in what looks like the middle of summer), Shortland talks about the "fragility and clarity" suggested by a fresh snowfall and how this comments on Heidi's emotional journey. Meanwhile Cornish looks to be having a ball in this fabricated winter wonderland, but when the cameras start to roll she immediately slips back into her pensive guise.
Shortland and cinematographer Robert Humphreys also shed light on how they visualised the film, referencing a wide range of influences including photographer Todd Hido. There are even notes on the colour palette, which is made up of dark colours, a smattering of red, and what Shortland calls, "yucky beigey browns".
Humphreys goes into even more detail about the visual concept in a separate interview. He's a big advocate of the handheld camera which he says lends "energy and vibrancy" to the film, but more importantly allows the actors to express themselves freely for a more "reactive" style of shooting. Wannabe filmmakers will relish technical notes on lighting and lenses.
Shortland gives an optional commentary for eight deleted scenes, most of which were excised when she decided to condense the daytime action. They range from straightforward vignettes, such as Heidi and friend Bianca (Hollie Andrew) gossiping about boys, to abstract moments like a montage where Heidi examines herself in a motel room mirror. It all paints a more elaborate picture of her transition from childhood to womanhood.
Showcasing more of Shortland's unique sensibility is the 20 minute film Flowergirl. It's the story of a young Japanese man who must say goodbye to the new life he's built in Sydney and to the flatmate he has secretly fallen for. Like Somersault, it touches upon issues of lost innocence and unrequited love with a similarly lyrical feel and a series of visually striking images.
Sadly Shortland does not offer a commentary for the main feature, but the featurettes are both substantial enough to make up for this. With so much attention to detail (regarding cinematography, lighting, colour palette etc), this is a DVD that truly awakens the senses.