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‘Proof’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 06, 1992

A blind photographer struggles with a vexing emotional handicap -- the crippling inability to trust -- in "Proof," an enigmatic look at not seeing and believing from Australian Jocelyn Moorhouse. In this quietly compelling black comedy, Moorhouse employs artistic vision and camera craft to bring the hero's humming, hand-felt universe amazingly to light. It is a visit to a complex world of splashing sherry heard and tasted, of a Seeing Eye dog's musky pelt scratched and inhaled.

Hugo Weaving, best known for his roles on Australian television, portrays the troubled, sightless Martin, a sarcastic 32-year-old caught up in a tormented relationship with his housekeeper, Celia (Genevieve Picot). As petty as she is provocative, the devious Celia trips up and teases the distant Martin by moving the furniture into his path and hiding the dog's leash. Martin retaliates by withholding the love she craves. This bizarre menage is threatened when an easygoing dishwasher, Andy (Russell Crowe), befriends Martin.

Haunted by the fear that his mother was lying to him about the world around him, Martin took up photography as a child. His photographs are proof, he explains to Andy, that the world he hears and feels is the same one that others see. Andy agrees to describe Martin's photographs to him, and promises that he'll never lie.

In hopes of having Martin completely to herself again, Celia seduces Andy into betraying his new friend, then exposes the breach to Martin. Her plans backfire when the experience becomes an epiphany for Martin, who gives Andy a second chance -- for not only has he discovered faith, but also forgiveness.

A minimalistic but multilayered production, "Proof" profits too from excellent performances from its trio of players, especially Picot, whose Celia is a decided relative of the menacing housekeeper in Hitchcock's "Rebecca." Weaving brings both an edge and an eggheaded sense of humor to his role, so we never pity the hero for his physical handicap but for his own sour sadness. He taps his cane with a swaggering ruthlessness that warns good Samaritans away. It's the hubris that first attracts Crowe's Everyman Andy. Like the other actors, Crowe is indigenous to the project, a Down Underling whose sunny ordinariness helps liberate Martin, the architect of his own Gothicism.

A parable inversely related to Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blowup," this hypnotic film contrasts what we see with what we perceive. Like many a sighted photographer, Martin hides from life behind the lens, an inviolate refuge for those who would record but not interpret. On some level, director Moorhouse also seems to realize that she too is guilty of making pictures. Even that ironic subtext enlightens.

"Proof" is rated R for nudity.

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