Proof: 'I want your trust'
Celia (Geneviève Picot) drives Martin (Hugo Weaving) home after a disastrous night out together. She has declared her love and made sexual overtures, but he has recoiled in horror. Outside his house, she tells him she’s the only one he can trust, not Andy. He doesn’t believe her. Alone in his bedroom, Martin cries and remembers the day years earlier when his mother (Heather Mitchell) told him she was going to die. In flashback the childish Martin (Jeffrey Walker) accuses her of trying to get away from him. Summary by Paul Byrnes.
The script walks a delicate line, in terms of characterisation, because it would be easy to lose sympathy with both of these characters. Celia’s cruel games – as in the scene in the park – could have made her seem a bit of a monster. Martin’s bitterness and suspicion could similarly have been off-putting, but each actor gives us a sense of their character’s humanity, as well as their cruelty.
It’s partly a film about the crushing of innocence, because Andy, the Russell Crowe character, is far less manipulative than either of these two. He doesn’t know that people of his own age could be so hurtful to each other. He’s the one who restores a balance to the film’s darkness, because he’s so much more trusting. The script has a great understanding of the shadings within the hearts of these characters, and an extraordinary range of emotions to examine.
Martin (Hugo Weaving) is a 32-year-old blind photographer. He lives alone and trusts no-one, especially not his housekeeper Celia (Geneviève Picot), who loves him in secret. Their antagonistic relationship is disturbed when Martin meets Andy (Russell Crowe), a kitchen hand at a local Italian restaurant. Andy becomes Martin’s eyes – the only person he trusts to describe what is in the photographs. When Celia realises that her role is threatened, she seduces Andy. Having failed to make Martin love her, she tries to prove that he can’t trust Andy. Martin grew up doubting his mother’s love, always wanting proof that what she told him was true. Celia proves that she was not lying, and that she loves him. Martin fires her and renews his friendship with Andy.
Proof curator's notes
Proof was the astonishing debut feature of Jocelyn Moorhouse, who had graduated from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in the mid-1980s. She heard a story around 1986 about a blind photographer; the idea intrigued her for its philosophical possibilities. How does a person, blind since birth, establish a sense of truth? Martin takes photographs, but he must still rely on someone else to describe them. What if that person decides to lie?
The script works so well because it establishes its own slightly aberrant world, but depicts it as normal. Martin and Celia have been taunting each other for the three-and-a-half years that she has worked for him. She loves him, but he will not acknowledge her feelings, even to himself. He will not give her the satisfaction of feeling pity, so he treats her with contempt. She moves furniture around in his home so he’ll trip over – a reminder of his helplessness and her power to hurt him whenever she wants. When Andy enters the story, their private war is well underway. He has no idea what he’s dealing with, or the ruthlessness that each is capable of.
One of the script’s great strengths is that Moorhouse maintains a sense of vulnerability within each character, even as they do their worst. Each is incomplete. Martin has both a physical and spiritual disability; Celia and Andy may be able of body but each has a brooding need for connection. Andy feels like a no-hoper, an itinerant, which is why Martin’s need for his help – to describe the photographs – gives him a sense of purpose. Celia’s desire to love is so strong she puts up with Martin’s humiliations just so she can be near him. Martin’s flashbacks to childhood, when his distrust of the world began, help us to accept how he might have become this pitiful and pitiless adult – a man so lonely and yet so proud that he’d rather be hated than pitied.
The film has an almost Hitchcockian darkness, tinged with bleak humour that’s worthy of Roman Polanski. The scene in the park, where Celia demonstrates her power by holding on to Bill, Martin’s seeing-eye dog, is constructed as a perfect Hitchcock sequence – it shifts the vulnerability from Martin’s inability to see to Andy’s fear of being seen by a man whose only weapon is a camera. It’s the point in the film where Andy begins to lie – something he didn’t think he was capable of.
Moorhouse’s skilful understanding of the metaphors of sight and the power of the image make the film mysterious on multiple levels. It’s a textbook example of how to keep a film’s logistics simple – three actors, very few locations – while sacrificing nothing in terms of thematic complexity and dramatic impact. None of these actors was particularly well known in 1991; each gives a superb performance in a film that has lost none of its sting since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, followed by the Sydney Film Festival, in mid-1991. The film won six awards at the Australian Film Institute awards in late 1991, including best director and best original screenplay for Jocelyn Moorhouse. Weaving won the AFI for best actor, Crowe won for best supporting actor and Picot was nominated for best actress (she lost to Sheila Florance, in A Woman’s Tale).
Notes by Paul Byrnes