It starts with a 000 call made by a frantic and disorientated woman. It was a call that should have taken just three minutes to place but by the time the response paramedics were able to gather the correct information, it was too late for Joe Cinque. Joe had been killed by his girlfriend Anu Singh, with a massive overdose of Rohypnol and heroin. Singh had been forming a bizarre plan to kill Joe and herself - a plan that included a 'send-off' party at their Canberra flat.
Based on Helen Garner's 2004 non-fiction book of the same name, Joe Cinque’s Consolation sets out to illuminate the disturbing and perplexing crime that rocked a nation, though whether it actually does that is up for debate. In his first feature film, Director Sotiris Dounoukos takes the stance of presenting the facts (as we know them) to his audience and allowing them to make up their own minds. The film opens up the floor to many questions, the biggest one being how did such a calculated murder happen and why didn’t anyone stop it?
When we first meet shy sweet Joe (Joseph Meyer), it's New Years Eve and he’s decided to share it with some mates at his local pub. It is here that he meets mysterious and infamous Anu (Maggie Naouri). When Anu decides to leave, Joe finds himself running after her and asking that he go with her, already cementing his loyalty, wherever she goes he doth follow. This is our first glimpse into the strength of the hold she has over him.
The pair share an exchange. Anu states: "I don’t know what they told you about me." And Joe responds, "I wouldn’t listen."
But what if it was true?
From here we pick up 3 years later and the couple have moved to Canberra, where it seems the relationship is starting to crack. This is where the story flails a little. It feels like we have missed a whole lot of drama, crucial events and emotional turmoil that the couple has gone through, especially when you try to understand where each party’s mental state is set. It is also around this time that Anu starts having delusions that’s she's suffering from some undiagnosed disease. Convinced Joe had a hand in her worsening condition by suggesting she try a weight loss drug and frustrated that no one believes her, Anu turns to fellow law student, Madhavi Rao (Sacha Joseph) who becomes fascinated by her charms and without question an accomplice. The two formulate the idea to host a dinner party in which Anu would take not only her life but also that of Joe’s.
If you’ve read Garner's book, expect to see a very different voice here in Dounoukos' way of telling the story. Where Garner’s book set out to be a voice for a man who no longer had one, in this film adaptation it feels the essence of Joe is lost. What does remain is strong performances from a practically unknown cast, Maggie Naouri’s performance is flawless and leads viewers to wonder how taxing it was on her as an actor to become such a vain, damaged, destructive and out of control character?
The hardest thing to stomach about this whole story is just how premeditated it was and how all those that knew did nothing to stop the event from ever taking place. The film leaves the question hanging: How did Singh become a monster? Did she become that way, or was it in her the whole time?
Joe Cinque's Consolation opens nationally on Thursday October 13th.