Careless Love tells the story of Linh, a Vietnamese Australian university student who secretly starts part-time work as an escort. She develops a close rapport with one of her clients, an enigmatic American art dealer, who books her on a regular basis. For a time she manages to keep her two lives in separate compartments. But when she falls for a fellow student her worlds collide and things get complicated. Showcasing his trademark restraint and sensitivity, Duigan paints a low key but impressive personal portrait here, getting under the skin of a young woman who mistakenly and ultimately tragically believes that you can keep the various fragments of your life separate without them cutting into each other. Watching her balance them against the backdrop of Sydney’s dangerously seductive after-hours world makes for a lyrical and moving experience.
The life of an escort is not shown through rose-coloured glasses: the scene in which Linh’s jaded co-worker Mint (Ivy Mak) is raped by a policeman on the bonnet of his car, is a harsh reminder of life’s hypocrisies. The final scene in which the question of our own moral codes is raised resonates and is an evocative ending to an equally evocative and satisfying film. Of course Linh’s reason for selling her body was a noble one, which makes her too good to be true; her character is almost flawless (despite shielding the ‘I sleep with men’ business from her boyfriend) as you can’t connect with someone who is that sweet, that innocent and, it has to be said,
Duigan has delivered a confused film, one which comes at the subject matter from every possible angle but is never enigmatic enough to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. Duigan has inserted a forceful authorial voice into every facet of Linh’s world and he is so wrapped up in getting a point across that he mistakes moralising for character development. Any semblance of humanity that the commendable cast manage to pull together is quickly bludgeoned to death when they have to deliver an overbearing, join-the-dots speech. The performances are also uneven, yet the contrast of inexperienced and veteran actors is apt given the subject. Le tries her hardest in her first lead role, even if she is outdone by the ever-reliable O’Brien and David Field.
In the end, this film was a conflicting experience. I’ve listed both very good, and very bad things about the film, perhaps even overlapping a few aspects. Sex work potentially entails becoming an ”object” in one sense. But it’s also a kind of improvised performance requiring constant snap appraisals of others, who have to make choices about what roles they want to fill. Digitally captured and evocatively shot by cinematographer Kathryn Milliss, Careless Love turns its familiar Sydney locations of beach and glass and steel towers into mysterious spaces where moral certainty seems a long way away. Are you emotionally mature to handle a film like this? Then by all means, give it a shot and experience it.