Although, in the telling, this pivotal 1988 movie about rural rape culture seems extreme, it unfortunately has not lost its resonance today.Asta Cadell (Deborra-Lee Furness) arrives on her motorbike in an isolated and backward Western Australian country town. Targeted with negative attention immediately by the men of the town for being a female travelling alone, she reluctantly must stay overnight to fix her bike. Lodging with a local mechanic Tim (Tony Barry), she sees his young daughter Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) come home after being gang raped by a group of young men including her wealthy boyfriend Danny (David Franklin). Lizzie's father and the whole town and blame the assault on her own behaviour and accept it as something to be suffered. When Asta persuade Lizzie to press charges, the town turns against them.
Big hair, mullets and high-waisted jeans mark this as an 80s movie but, beyond that, the story holds up very well after 30 years. It's hard to imagine that in 2017 an entire town would be so blatantly ignorant and obstructionist but I know this kind of perpetuation of rape culture – where it is excused as normal male behaviour and women are made to feel responsible and told to change their behaviours in order to live safely – still exists in communities. Audrey and Daisy (MIFF 2016) was a good recent example of this. Social media has made the sex shaming and blaming of girls even easier and the consequences no less dire than in Shame. I'm sure it is also an issue for people in our country who don't have the privileges that come with being white, heterosexual, cisgendered and able-bodied.
Deborra-Lee Furness is wonderful as Asta and radiates strength, independence and resolve. Her lack of hesitation when standing up for herself is still a lesson to follow. The action is well paced and genuinely gripping. According to Furness at an after-film Q&A, the American distributors wanted to change the ending to make it more acceptable to a broader audience. Thank goodness they didn't. It is the ending that drives home the devastating effect of not taking a stand.
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.