Every year, the Toronto International Film Festival guarantees its audience a diverse range of films from all over the world, as TIFF's actually lives up to it's international title. In comparison to films from Palestine and Iran, an Australian film may not seem like that much of an interesting foreign subject to some festival goers. However, one of them holds the visual power of director John Curran and the emotional power of lead actress Mia Wasikowska, there is simply no other place you will be more fascinated by than Australia. Tracks holds the cinematic ability to do just that.
The film tells the incredible true story of writer, voyageur and recluse Robin Davidson and her 1700 trek with her four camels and one dog across the deserts of Western Australia in the 1970s. When we meet Robyn, she is financially broke but determined to make enough money to finance this grand and impossible trip. She skips from job to job until settling down in the beautiful desert town of Alice Springs, where she prepares for the trip by training camels in the harsh desert weather. Robyn reminds of us of a lone wolf type of lead from an old Western film, a strong traveler without much connection to anyone or anything, except her dog. We do meet Robyn's one old friend Jenny, when she stays over with her hippie group of friends, much to Robyn's annoyance. One member of this group is the talkative, bumbling, Rick Smolan (played by Girls' Adam Driver), an American photographer for National Geographic and Robyn's polar opposite. It is through Rick and his unconditional friendliness that Robyn receives the financial backing she needs for the trip, from National Geographic. However, as the magazine's photographer, Rick is required to meet Robyn a few times during the expedition to take photos. Though Robyn intended for this to be an exclusively individual experience, she soon finds out that she craves much more human interaction beyond her few meetings with Rick on this arduous, emotional, almost yearlong journey of self-discovery.
Curran, who also wrote the screenplay for Tracks, adapts Davidson's delicate story with precise direction and careful emotion. He succeeds in bringing out the raw human elements of her tale almost entirely through minimal extraordinary camerawork, as there is very little dialogue. We better understand Davidson's haunting voyage of self-discovery through Curran's discovery of the bright and dangerous landscape of the Australian desert. His beautiful deep focus photography makes the setting itself become a sort of co-lead with Wasikowska, as an equally mysterious and complicated character. Curran is a genius at utilizing subtle filmmaking to evoke the deepest of emotions from his audience. All we need is the ever-growing frame to further encapsulate the stunning view surrounding Robyn, to make us feel her loneliness. As far as the audience can tell, there are little to no special effects used, simply because the scenery is as gorgeous and wondrous enough as it is. Each shot of the blazing endless desert could be out of Robyn's imagination, for all we know. The film is slow throughout, but not boring, for the steady pace is what takes you so deep into Robyn's mind and transformation, and by the end leaves you breathless.
The camerawork only brings out the poignant character study underneath the film and connects you deeply to the complex lead. The connection you have with Robyn can only to be compared with the feeling you had with Chuck Noland in Cast Away. The difference between the two is that one does not star a worshipped male academy award winning, but a very young underrated actress, in her first adult role. Though Wasikowska has impressed us before in Jane Eyre, Stoker, The Kids Are All Right, Restless, etc., she did so by playing a teenager. Robyn Davidson is quite a leap from the young Alice in Wonderland and the audience almost forgets Wasikowska ever appeared in these films by the time Tracks has finished. This marks the performance of Wasikowska's already prolific career and solidifies her as one of the industry's finest actresses. Her level of dedication to this dynamic, shifting and hard to understand character is Oscar worthy and is reason enough alone for everyone to see this film upon it's release. Like Curran, it is Wasikowska's skills of subtlety that move the audience so dearly, bringing us further into the lonely and confused mind of Robyn. There is no other actress who could have carried the weight of this film better than Wasikowska. She is simply tremendous as the anchor of Davidson's enduring emotional flight.
Though Wasikowska easily steals the show, her co-star Adam Driver, who also keeps getting work with Lincoln, Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis, etc. is perfect as Robyn's foil. Driver's charm and boyishness as Rick gives the audience a much needed comic relief that does not clash or overshadow Wasikowska's stress and seriousness but creates an ideal balance with it.
Like mentioned earlier, Wasikowska's performance is enough to make you fully appreciate this movie, but combined with Curran's meticulous artistic vision and the radiant backdrop of the Australian desert, it's enough to make you fall in love with the film. Tracks is a one of a kind cinematic venture that only comes around every decade or so. Let's hope some of that TIFF good luck charm allows this striking independent feature to eventually be seen and loved around the world.