The Australians know a thing or two about mixing comedy and pathos, especially writer/director Jocelyn Moorhouse. Moorhouse hit the international cinema circuit with her 1991 black comedy, “Proof” about a blind photographer (played by a young Russell Crowe). A few American Movies later (“A Thousand Acres,” “How to Make an American Quilt”), Moorhouse returns to Australia with her quirky, and at times tragic, tone piece, “The Dressmaker.” Based on Rosalie Ham’s novel of the same name, “The Dressmaker” is graced with the extraordinary talents of Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth.  

‘The Dressmaker’You can never go home.

The film opens on long and dusty shots of bus traveling through bleak farmland intercut with ominous childhood memories from the past.

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The owner of these memories is Tilly Dunnage, a beautiful and successful Parisian dress designer (portrayed by a radiant and winsome Winslet). The year is 1951 and the very sad and shabby town she travels to is Dungatar, an East-Australia wheat belt inhabited by cruel and petty townspeople. Tilly has returned home to seek the truth about a death from her past and to also care for her ailing, forgetful, and often drunk mother, “Mad” Molly (Davis).

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As Tilly works to clean the squalor enveloping her mother, she can’t seem to quell the town’s remembrances of her potentially scandalous past. But Tilly doesn’t take bad remarks and utterances lying down, instead she relies on her stunning clothing creations to quell the town’s voices, while seeking the truth and plotting punishment.

‘The Dressmaker’ showcases couture and revenge.

During a rugby game, the well-dressed, red-gowned Tilly literally has men stumbling over themselves, as she re-introduces herself to the townsfolk.

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Looking stunning, Tilly immediately finds herself in high demand as a dressmaker for the locals. After all, who doesn’t want a pretty gown to pretend to be someone else? But does looking pretty change the inner you? Tilly, Molly, potential love interest Teddy (Hemsworth), and cross-dressing Sergeant Farrat (Weaving) all know the answer veers to the negative. They’ve been at the bottom of the town’s pecking order for much too long. So maybe it is time to clean up the town and take out the rubbish.

‘The Dressmaker’ intertwines comedy, tragedy and revenge.

Some might forget that at its core, this story is about remembrance and retaliation. Tilly and Molly have been wronged. And the moments of comedy, lightness and love still have darkness brewing underneath. And like the townspeople, viewers might forget and be sucked into the fun and the fabulous gowns (Marion Boyce designed some 350 costume creations for the townsfolk, while Margot Wilson designed those numerous outfits worn by Tilly/Winslet).

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So when tragedy bubbles up, it comes as a shock; like jumping into a cold lake.

It’s the work of Moorhouse’s strong script adaptation and direction that reminds viewers that the moral of the story has been revenge all along. As Winslet notes in the film’s press notes about the project, “It’s a risky, fun, comedic, dark, sometimes strange story with a very strong mother-daughter relationship at its heart ultimately.

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So, it was a combination of all those things really that grabbed me.” This reviewer was grabbed as well, in the eclectic, surreal, but always intriguing, “The Dressmaker.”

“The Dressmaker” is 118 minutes, Rated R, and opens in Los Angeles on September 23.

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