Peter Weir Geoff Brown - Essay

Geoff Brown

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Cars That Ate Paris] the dying town is in the clichéd position of living off the refuse of a materialistic society—symbolised in this instance by the automobile (the accidents are planned, the cars and victims then looted). But the obviousness of its theme has little adverse effect on the success of The Cars That Ate Paris …, a grotesque and engaging horror-comedy….

[Weir's] directorial manner is cool and collected enough for the depicted events to seem startlingly matter-of-fact. The Mayor is the most fully developed character in the bizarre drama….

In the hallowed horror movie tradition, Arthur [the hero] is about to tell the vicar his fears when his potential ally meets a nasty death off-screen—'accidentally', the town decides. Now the movie's pace tightens and the eccentricities loom larger…. [The Pioneer's Ball is] a marvellously funny sequence, and any participant in village fêtes or church socials will recognise the seeds of truth: the lady pianist mechanically pounds out jolly tunes; the Mayor half-heartedly leads the dancing; everyone's 'fancy dress' seems desperate. However, their costumes are nothing compared with those of the hospital patients, who make a triumphant entrance with cereal packets on their heads or cardboard boxes round their waists….

True, the movie has its faults: the pacing is often sluggish (particularly in the opening stages), the structuring of the story is haphazard, and most of the performances could be sharpened with benefit. But after the boorish and boring adventures of Alvin Purple and Barry McKenzie, it's refreshing and encouraging to find an Australian film which never wallows in its country's inglorious mores but uses them tactfully to further an intriguing and compelling narrative of its own.

Geoff Brown, "Film Reviews: 'The Cars that Ate Paris'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1975 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 44, No. 3, Summer, 1975, p. 192.