"Before love comes trust. Before trust comes...Proof."
Long before Russell Crowe was a tough gladiator or a salty sea captain, and long before Hugo Weaving was a wise Elven king or flashy drag queen, they played friends caught in a strange love triangle in a film from 1991 called Proof. Weaving's character, Martin, is a single, educated man who lives alone and has a passion for photography. He's also blind. Crowe plays a likable young busboy named Andy whom Martin befriends one evening outside the restaurant where Andy works. All would be well but for Martin's housekeeper Celia (Genevieve Picot) who harbors a rather unhealthy obsession for her seeing-impaired employer. A blind photographer as a lead character sounds like a trite art house conceit or a bad joke, but writer/director Jocelyn Moorhouse has a salient point to make with the character who has a legitimate and believable reason for photographing things he can't see which becomes apparent as the story unfolds.
The film is brilliant, and at times, darkly comic in its look at trust, love and obsession. It's also one of the few examples I've ever seen in cinema of a near perfect unrequited love triangle. Martin loathes his housekeeper Celia, who desires him, but he keeps her around so he can pity her instead of her pitying him as he later explains to Andy. Martin becomes quite fond of Andy but Andy has an unspoken attraction to Celia. Celia is jealous of Martin's new "little friend" Andy, but is quite aware of his attraction to her. The story is executed with subtlety, intelligence and a wry since of humor with each character fully formed and there motives quite clear. There are no good or bad guys necessarily and even Celia, who is clearly the antagonist, elicits some compassion in the end.
Weaving is fantastic as the fiercely independent, introspective Martin who is almost the polar opposite of his upbeat character in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Initially, he seems a cold and uncaring person, but as the story unfolds, he becomes understandable, human and even likable. Crowe's busboy Andy is also a far cry from the characters he played in LA Confidential or Romper Stomper. In Proof, Crowe is at his most charming, likable and natural. Andy is portrayed as a nice, but somewhat naive, slacker who is a little in over is head when it comes to dealing with neurotic people like Martin and Celia. Andy's not dumb, but his two new friends are whip smart and not above using Andy to torment each other. Genevieve Picot should have been blown off the screen by these two future cinema icons, but surprisingly, she gives the juiciest and most nuanced performance. She somehow manages to be believably bitchy, sexy, plain-looking, acerbic, sad, frightening, beautiful and funny in the role of Celia. Janet Maslin compared her favorably to Glenda Jackson, but I think Picot is actually funnier in a dark way and more interesting.
The writing and performances are enough to make this a great movie, but Moorhouse's direction and the original music by Not Drowning, Waving, kick it up another notch. There's a great backwards tracking shot of Weaving's character, early on, walking down an ally with the camera angled up to show his head and shoulders framed against the cloudy sky. Moorhouse makes several clever or wry statements like this with her camera work throughout the film that just add to the superb quality. The photograph's taken by Martin were similarly clever, but just out of whack enough to appear to have been shot by a blind photographer. The award winning soundtrack for the film was done by Not Drowning, Waving and is a little reminiscent of Tangerine Dream only less electronically based with more percussion and wind instruments to give it a driving but still melodious beat. It adds a very unique tone and feel to the film.
For those who are not already fans of Crowe and Weaving, this film, and their performances will certainly push them in that direction. It will also cause some puzzlement on why Moorhouse and Picot haven't become international household names as well. Moorhouse did go on to direct a few films, but nothing approaching the quality and wit of Proof.