Newly discovered director dissolves into sparkling sea

Jean Epstein.LAUNCHING his career in Paris in the 1920s, Jean Epstein approached the new art of cinema from a position of rare intellectual freedom. Few filmmakers have worked so fruitfully in the zone where fictional narrative meets the avant-garde, and few have shown such wholehearted enthusiasm for using the camera to transform our vision of the world.
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It has taken a while for English-language film culture to discover Epstein. A retrospective at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival gives an indication of what we have been missing.

Epstein is a ''flashy'' filmmaker, in a literal sense. He is attracted to elemental forms of movement - whatever sparkles, flows, or drifts like smoke. He loves reflections, veils, superimpositions, close-ups, blurred focus, and anything involving rivers or the sea.

His favourite device is the slow dissolve, especially when dissolving between the rippling surface of water and the face of a character in thought.

Often developing his visual ideas through conventional melodramatic stories, Epstein rarely delves into psychology as commonly understood.

Instead, he invites us to relish the faces, bodies and gestures of his performers: one sequence of The Beauty from Nivernais (1923) is devoted to a small boy doing a giddy dance, with little relevance to the plot.

There's a playfully eerie side to Epstein's work, linked to a use of slow motion that puts human activity and the inanimate on equal footing.

In his 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of The House of Usher, candle flames and curtains acquire wills of their own, while hands and faces move as clouds.

Covering a fraction of Epstein's output, the retrospective concentrates on his 1920s silent films. Still, the new documentary Jean Epstein, Young Oceans Of Cinema covers his later, quasi-ethnographic shorts and features.

In the 1947 short Le tempestaire the obvious camera tricks have mostly gone: what remains is a spare yet intricate game with a handful of elements of image and sound. The rhythmic flashing of a lighthouse lamp is set against the whistle of the wind, the roar of the waves, and a plaintive melody sung by a fisherman's bride-to-be as she awaits her lover's return to land.

Asked why he so often depicted the sea, Epstein said it was out of a fear that ''obliges us to do what we are afraid to do''. That might be a clue to the true nature of this mysterious filmmaker, whose works seem lucid almost to the point of abstraction, yet deeply personal in their mingled ecstasy and fright.

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Regulator takes tougher stance with telcos

The communications regulator is warning of "more investigations [and] more court cases" against telcos that breach new customer service rules starting in four weeks.
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The new rules will stop telcos using the word "cap" and force them to offer clear pricing information, usage alerts and better complaint handling services. It also set up Communications Compliance - an industry funded body that will monitor breaches.

General manager of content, consumer and citizen at the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Jennifer McNeill, said it will have little patience for telcos that flaunt the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection code.

The ACMA previously used a gentle 'engage and educate' method to help telcos comply, but this attitude would be replaced with a tougher stance, she said.

"You will see more investigations, more directions and more court cases," she told a room full of telco industry representatives at a briefing.

"We expect immediate compliance with the obligations that have been substantially carried over from the old code."

Ms McNeill said the ACMA would no longer tolerate "good natured incompetence" as an excuse for breaches and would also ask telcos to substantiate any unbelievable service offers. Staff had been shifted around within the ACMA to bulk up its ability to enforce compliance, she added.

When the code starts on September 1, it will be the first time all Australian telcos are bound by a customer service code enforceable through fines of up to $250,000. The old code was voluntary and impossible to enforce.

The industry body that drafted the code, Communications Alliance, is conducting briefings and training sessions around the country to help companies prepare for the changes.

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Nufarm to settle class action for $43.5 million

A group of Nufarm shareholders, super funds and banks, who launched two class actions over the company’s alleged failure to disclose company weaknesses three years ago, are expected to share $43.5 million as part of a proposed settlement.
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In a statement released this morning, the law firms Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon said an in-principle settlement had been reached with the agricultural supplies company after a mediation which was held yesterday.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, which at this stage have not been disclosed publicly. The deal must secure the approval of the Federal Court.

The class actions claimants accused Nufarm of failing the tell the stock exchange how worsening conditions in the market for herbicide glyphosate had affected its business and therefore its profitability and debt position.

Nufarm had denied the allegations.

The company’s chaiman, Donald McGauchie, said the board had considered the likely risks and potential costs of pursuing a defence at trial as well as the distraction it might cause to management.

“We are pleased to put this behind us and have the company fully focused on continuing to improve the operating performance of the business,” Mr McGauchie said.

In a statement to the stock exchange, Nufarm said the proposed settlement, which covers investors who bought shares between September 2009 to August 2010, encompasses claims made by the plaintiffs, accrued interest, the sums that will be paid to litigation funders for each of the class actions plus legal costs.

The class actions had been rolled into a single case and were due to be heard next year before Justice John Middleton in the Federal Court.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jason Geisker said the proposed settlement “represents a very positive and expeditious outcome for shareholders”.

Slater & Gordon’s Ben Phi said participants in the case included retail and institutional funds, individual shareholders and banks. Clients would be told about the deal in the next few weeks.

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Umpire asked to end CSL strike

CONCERNS over a strike causing possible blood plasma shortages in New Zealand have led plasma and vaccines firm CSL to take three unions to the national industrial umpire this morning, seeking to invoke little-used laws that allow the suspension or termination of a strike if it endangers lives.
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Unions had already put overtime bans in place and have taken 24-hour strikes as part of lawful industrial actions. But this week they stepped up work bans on processing blood for international destinations - to pressure CSL to resolve the dispute that began in April.

CSL has now warned that the industrial action could soon endanger people's health.

Under the Fair Work Act, industrial action can be stopped by Fair Work Australia if it threatens to endanger the life, health or welfare of the population, or part of it.

''The unions' tactics left us with no choice but to make an application to Fair Work Australia to stop the industrial action,'' said Sharon McHale, senior director of public affairs at CSL.

She said the company could not reach an agreement with the three unions - the National Union of Workers, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Community and Public Sector Union - that processing of NZ plasma should resume.

''Plasma products take nine to 10 weeks to process, test and release. Based on New Zealand's current inventory levels, we must start processing their plasma by the end of next week at the latest to avoid product shortages for patients,'' she said.

But the unions say their action does not endanger lives, and want CSL to resume negotiations.

The AMWU's Charlie Pandolfo said he doubted CSL would succeed at Fair Work, arguing that it would be premature given that New Zealand Blood Services is believed to have four months of stockpiles. And the CPSU's Sam McCrone said the quickest way to get an agreement was to return to the negotiating table.

The unions say staff discontent at CSL is growing, while job insecurity has increased and that management pay exceeds wage rises for other staff.

CSL has offered a 10.75 per cent wage rise over three years. Last week it withdrew an $800 sign-on bonus after staff voted down a proposed agreement.

Unions want a 5 to 6 per cent wage rise for each of three years. An agreement would cover about 1700 of CSL's 1800-strong Australian workforce.

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Whooping shots ‘less effective’

A NEW whooping cough vaccine introduced in 1999 is less effective than the one it replaced, possibly explaining a resurgence of the disease in children, researchers have found.
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A study of more than 40,000 Queensland children found that those who received a full course of the new vaccine were three times more likely to have developed whooping cough between 2009 and 2011, compared with the old vaccine.

The children studied were born in 1998, at a time when the old vaccine was being phased out, and therefore received either a full course of the old or new vaccine, or a mixture of both. The vaccine is delivered at two months, four months and six months.

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, helps explain a spike of whooping cough cases in children aged between six and 11. Co-author Stephen Lambert said younger children were not included in the study, but the new vaccine appeared to offer good protection for some years.

That protection could wear off around the time they went to school, he said, and booster doses may not be sufficient to guard against the disease.

Professor Lambert said the old vaccine commonly caused redness, swelling and pain where it was injected, and could also lead to children developing fevers or crying for long periods.

''In making the switch in vaccines, we may have traded off some of the protection [the old] whole cell vaccines provided in exchange for a better tolerated vaccine,'' he said.

Cases of whooping cough in Australia have jumped from 14,287 in 2008 to 38,596 last year. In Victoria this year there have been 2595 cases, compared with 5361 for the same period last year. Eight infants have died of whooping cough in Australia since 2008, including a 14-day-old baby in Victoria last February.

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Mr Millions cancels party

Former Health Services Union president Michael Williamson.IT HAS been a busy week of cancellations for the man once known as Mr Millions.
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Michael Williamson has formally resigned as national president of the troubled Health Services Union. He handed in his notice via a text message to the union's acting president, Chris Brown, on Monday.

Also cancelled is the huge ''thank you'' drinks party Mr Williamson's family was throwing for him.

Guests from across the country received an email from Mr Williamson's wife, Julie, and daughter Alexandra yesterday morning notifying them that, due to ''unforeseen family reasons'', the celebratory drinks had to be called off.

The Williamsons last week sent invitations to their network of friends, political figures, Labor stalwarts and union mates asking them to the ''thank you'' party at the Verandah bar, in Sydney's Elizabeth Street, on August 10.

One senior Labor politician who was invited expressed disbelief that the Williamsons were throwing themselves a party.

Apart from wondering who was paying for it, he said: ''No one in their right mind would want to be seen associating themselves with Michael Williamson in the present climate.''

Alexandra Williamson last week resigned from her job as a media officer on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Earlier in the week, Ms Gillard had expressed dismay at the disclosures in the Temby report, which revealed that her staff member's family had received millions of dollars from the union, whose members are among the most poorly paid in the country.

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Living costs rising? You’re dreaming

THE government statistician has a sobering message for Australians who think their personal rates of inflation far exceed the official rate of 1.2 per cent: they are likely much lower.
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Living cost indexes released yesterday by the Bureau of Statistics show that among so-called working families, average costs climbed just 0.7 per cent in the year to June. A year earlier they had been soaring at an annual rate of 4.5 per cent.

Driving down the rates of inflation actually experienced by working households have been dramatic slides in mortgage interest rates, more than enough to offset higher electricity and gas charges. Mortgage payments are about 50 per cent more important to household budgets than energy charges. The ABS includes them in its calculation of household living costs but not in its measure of inflation.

Households headed by aged pensioners and self-funded retirees also experienced extraordinarily low cost increases in the year to June, each also recording 0.7 per cent, roughly half the official inflation rate and the lowest increase since such costs were first calculated in 1999. Sharp falls in the price of food explain the divergence, food being more important in the budgets of retiree households than it is in the calculation of the consumer price index.

Only one type of household identified by the bureau experienced a cost increase above the official inflation rate. Households headed by ''government transfer recipients'', such as unemployed Australians on Newstart, experienced an annual cost increase of 1.3 per cent, slightly above the official inflation rate of 1.2 per cent that will be used to adjust their benefits, meaning they will be left further behind when their benefits are next adjusted in September.

Households headed by beneficiaries spend a greater proportion of their incomes on rent and alcohol and tobacco than other Australians, leaving them more exposed to strongly rising prices.

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan welcomed the bureau's calculations, saying they showed most Australians were experiencing very low rates of inflation. A family with a $300,000 mortgage was paying about $4000 per year less than when the Coalition was last in office.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the prices of essentials such as electricity, education, healthcare and rents were climbing strongly. ''All Australians use electricity,'' he said. ''Electricity prices are up more than 10 per cent over the past year, and up over 60 per cent since Labor came to power. This is before the carbon tax …''

The latest Melbourne Institute survey finds Australians expect inflation to jump to 3.3 per cent as a result of the carbon tax. The Reserve Bank expects the increase to be a one-off with no implications for interest rates.

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Cancer treatment ‘hijacking’ a fallacy: urologists

LEADING urologists have rejected claims that commercial interests are influencing the management of prostate cancer and say that over-treatment causing impotence and incontinence is being minimised.
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On Tuesday, Melbourne cancer specialist Ian Haines said prostate cancer treatment had been hijacked by commercial interests, causing many men to be ''over-diagnosed'' with low-risk disease that led them to have damaging surgery unnecessarily.

An Associate Professor of Medicine from Monash University, he said PSA (prostate specific antigen) tests and Gleason scores to diagnose and score prostate cancers were unreliable and he criticised the marketing of expensive robotic surgery, saying it was only marginally better than standard prostatectomy procedures.

Professor Tony Costello - the Melbourne urologist who pioneered robotic surgery for prostate cancer - yesterday described his comments as ''provocative'' and stood by prostate cancer tests for many men and robotic surgery for prostate removal.

He said while hospitals had to ''claw back'' the millions of dollars invested in robotic surgical equipment, in his experience, it did not influence surgeons' advice to patients.

Furthermore, he said while no data had been published yet, he had found robotic surgery to be better for his patients, reducing rates of impotence and incontinence two years after surgery.

Professor Costello said growing evidence of over-treatment had caused a shift to more surveillance and less treatment for men with low-risk cancers. He said a registry set up to track cancers in Victoria showed about half of the 5500 men diagnosed in Victoria last year were being monitored to see if the cancer got worse. This showed urologists were acting in their patients' best interests, he said. ''If you get a positive biopsy for prostate cancer in Victoria, 46 per cent are getting surveillance … and you're more likely to be put on surveillance in private practice than you are in the public system, so there's no commercial advantage,'' he said.

Monash Medical Centre urologist and a spokesman for the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, Associate Professor Mark Frydenberg, said Gleason scoring was a reliable way to differentiate low, intermediate and high-risk cancers, allowing some men to have life-saving treatment. However, he said men deciding on treatment should seek various opinions because robotic surgery only offered marginal benefits. ''The differences to date are not huge. The complication rates for continence and potency appear similar,'' he said.

Several men contacted The Age yesterday with stories about prostate testing and treatment, including one man who was told he did not have cancer after having his prostate removed.

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Be wary of results before rushing in

JEFF Hoober has a message for men having PSA tests done: Get a second and third opinion before embarking on biopsies and treatment.
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The 69-year-old Maryborough man says surgery to remove his prostate five years ago left him impotent, partly incontinent and angry about the way he was treated.

He said a rising PSA reading around four caused him to have a biopsy, which diagnosed cancer with a Gleason score of six. This led doctors to recommend surgery without a full explanation of the risks.

''My urologist did not provide me with any proper counselling,'' Mr Hoober said. ''It wasn't stressed to me that the chance of nerves being damaged was greater than them not being damaged.''

In a terrible chain of events, Mr Hoober says he was told after the surgery that he did not have cancer after all.

''I couldn't believe it, it was devastating,'' he said.

While urologists say Mr Hoober's experience is very rare, they acknowledged Gleason scores can change between biopsy and pathology tests after the prostate has been removed, giving men a different estimate of how aggressive their cancer is likely to be. This level of accuracy depends on the pathologists' experience, they said.

While urologists said a man like Mr Hoober would be advised to take a surveillance approach with the knowledge they have today, he suspects some surgeons are too eager to operate.

''It begs the question of how the urologists' income has been going. I bet there's been an enormous increase in surgery since Sam Newman went public.''

Mr Hoober said he had mixed feelings about testing now and felt biopsies put men in a difficult position.

''We're so shit scared when we hear the word cancer. All you can think of is I need to get this out of my body,'' he said.Rather the risk than suffering a painful death

PROSTATE cancer has been an unfortunate family affair for Mark Sheehan who says testing and treatment will probably save his life.

All of the school principal's brothers, including AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan, have been diagnosed with prostate cancer in recent years at ages 60, 61 and 63.

All of them had Gleason scores indicating high-risk cancer.

Mr Sheehan, 57, has suffered the same fate. Having been diagnosed with a high Gleason score of seven recently, he is now preparing to follow his brothers, who all had their prostates removed after a similar diagnosis.

While debate rages about the accuracy of testing and the damaging side effects of treatment, Mr Sheehan said he would much rather have his prostate removed and live with the risk of side effects from surgery than die the slow and painful death he heard stories about when he was growing up.

''If I had a lower Gleason score, I wouldn't be lining up for surgery and I would be keeping a watching brief. I can't say I'm gladly looking forward to August 15 [his surgery date], but I have to trust my GP and surgeon,'' he said.

''I also have the experience of my brothers who are are all out in the community and dry, so to speak. They are all living full lives and not dragging their feet around.''

Despite suggestions prostate cancer management has been influenced by commercial interests, Mr Sheehan said he felt as though he had adequate counselling at the Epworth Hospital to decide on robotic surgery at the private hospital.

''It's very personal, it will be different for everyone, but I feel medically very well informed,'' he said.

Mr Sheehan believes his family's experience of prostate cancer showed PSA testing was still valuable for picking up high-risk cancers early.

His recent diagnosis has caused him to urge men over 50 to take an annual test.

''Early detection and treatment are essential,'' he said.

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Swan songs and the quest for boomer cred in the heart of the Boss’ fan belt

WHAT DID Bruce Springsteen ever do to deserve this? Even Paul Keating had the decency to choose a composer already dead, Gustav Mahler, with whom to parade his cultural pretensions.
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But the unfortunate Springsteen is alive and due to tour Australia next year, his every concert burdened now with the knowledge that his most publicly ardent local fan is … oh, dear … Wayne Swan, federal Treasurer.

Swan, of course, is hardly the first politician to try to steal baby boomer cred from Springsteen, the lyrical, visionary and endlessly high-energy rock performer from New Jersey.

The Boss, as Springsteen is known, is 62, and he tends to cause middle-aged male politicians of all stripes to behave like schoolgirls confronted with Justin Bieber.

The Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has attended 126 Springsteen concerts and claims to know every word to every Springsteen song, despite the rock star refusing to even meet him.

It was national news in the US when Christie appeared to fall asleep at one of those concerts earlier this year, leading the Governor to angrily deny any such thing. He was enjoying, he said, ''a spiritual moment''.

The Democrat Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, declares that Springsteen ''has been the soundtrack of my life'' and is much given to quoting his lyrics in speeches.

Even a former president, Ronald Reagan - possibly unaware that Springsteen could not stand his politics - declared in a 1984 election campaign speech that ''America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen.''

But Wayne Swan, 58, has very nearly outdone them all.

Not content with merely crafting his John Button Lecture as a form of fanzine (''the Boss was and remains my musical hero. And not just mine. He's the favourite musician of the Prime Minister.''), Swan released his own YouTube video to prove his devotee status.

There was Wayne in Eric Clapton T-shirt flicking through his Springsteen world tour '96 souvenir pamphlet, Wayne displaying his Springsteen record collection, a shot of his ''Springsteen Live at the Nassau Coliseum'' poster from 1980 (tickets: $12); Wayne flicking through speech notes while nodding to the beat of Born to Run; Wayne in shirt sleeves and tie trawling through Treasury papers with the soundtrack cranked to full blast; Wayne grooving to his son playing guitar and his daughter singing Dancing in the Dark.

And, mercy! A shot of Wayne as a long-haired university student from the early 1970s, complete with moustache. Weirdly, he's wearing a suit and tie. Born to run … for preselection.

Around the time that photograph was taken, the American music critic Jon Landau was about to create an enduring legend. ''I saw my rock'n'roll past flash before my eyes,'' he wrote of a concert he had attended. ''I saw something else: I saw rock'n'roll's future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.''

Wayne Swan, pretty clearly, has seen his future flash before his eyes and, not wishing to give such a hideous vision a name, he is determined hope lies in the past, its name, Bruce Springsteen.

You would just about forgive the Boss if he tried to limit the damage by introducing his Australian concerts with a tune for Wayne - the cutting old Beatles song, Taxman:

''If you drive a car, I'll tax the street/If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat/If you get too cold I'll tax the heat/If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.''

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Opposition sour notes on Springsteen as hero

THE opposition ridiculed Wayne Swan for invoking his hero Bruce Springsteen as he renewed his attack on mining billionaires, while Clive Palmer, one of the Treasurer's targets, took aim at his lack of musical patriotism.
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''It says everything about this government that it is guided by the principles of a rock singer, rather than any enduring philosophy that builds a stronger nation,'' shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said.

Describing Mr Swan's John Button lecture as a ''look-at-me speech'', he said: ''You have got the clown trying to run the circus.'' He said he saw rock music as entertainment, not ''as the benchmark of guiding principles for the destiny of a nation''. He was inspired by the likes of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill or a Robert Menzies.

If Springsteen was the right benchmark ''then we might as well have Glenn A. Baker and Molly Meldrum running the country - and they would do a far better job than the current mob'', Mr Hockey said.

Mr Swan said in his speech - which cast Springsteen as a working class hero who had influenced him from the 1970s - that the only regret he had about his attacks in his Monthly essay on Mr Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest was that he had not gone harder. In the essay he accused them of seeking to buy excessive influence in their own self-interest - he now says their subsequent actions have borne him out.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he was ''not here to defend billionaires, billionaires can defend themselves''. ''What's important, though, is that the Treasurer's words attack billionaires but his policies attack middle Australian families.''

Mr Palmer tweeted that it was ''unpatriotic'' of Mr Swan to be quoting songs from a millionaire US rock star. ''I prefer Oz groups like Redgum and the Seekers.''

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Indonesians innocent of people smuggling

FREEDOM came and went in the blink of an eye yesterday for two Indonesians who have been incarcerated for the last 21 months, after a jury took less than five hours to find them not guilty of aggravated people smuggling.
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As soon as they had been escorted from the County Court into the sunshine of William Street, they were whisked into a van and taken to the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre to await deportation.

The news was conveyed by Victoria Legal Aid's Sarah Westwood by phone to the remote village of Itterung in South Sulawesi, where the elder son of Sore, one of the accused, expressed the hope his father might be home in time for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday to mark the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan.

''They are the victims, not the perpetrators, and I'm pleased that the jury understood that,'' said Carolene Gwynn, the barrister who represented Sore, 42, a widower and farm worker who left school after grade five.

The pair are the first of 48 Indonesian boat crew to be tried in Victoria this year for aggravated people smuggling - an offence that carries a mandatory five-year prison term for those found guilty.

''This is a verdict that keeps our faith in the jury system,'' said Michael Cahill, who represented the younger accused, 24-year-old Rustam, whose only possessions were the jeans and T-shirt he was wearing when the boat was intercepted in November 2010 - and whose formal education ended in grade two.

It is also a verdict that raised questions about the costs of charging those with minor roles in transporting asylum seekers to Australia - and whether it is a help or a hindrance in bringing the ''Mr Bigs'' of people smuggling to justice and reducing the risk of deaths at sea.

More than 140 Indonesians are being prosecuted across Australia and 198 are serving prison terms after being convicted in other states. To prove guilt, the Crown must demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that they knew their intended destination was Australia and that their passengers might not have a lawful right to enter the country.

Both men were described by their lawyers as members of a people smuggling ''B-team'', who were kept in the dark about their destination and left to care for the 59 passengers and face arrest when members of the ''A-team'' left after fixing the engine during the journey.

In an interview that was not admissible as evidence, Rustam had told immigration officials on Christmas Island that he thought their destination was an ''island'', and that he believed the trip was ''halal'', or legitimate, Mr Cahill said.

The pair's first reaction to the verdict was one of bewilderment, which later gave way to tears.

Ms Gwynn said she spent more than four hours trying to explain how the trial would unfold to Sore before it began a fortnight ago, but that both of the accused struggled to follow what was happening throughout.

Aside from the language barrier - and the fact there is no Indonesian word for ''jury'' - they were fasting for Ramadan and struggling with the cold, which made listening to the interpreter more difficult, she said.

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Dean Lotz, as Francois, gives a nuanced performance in a difficult role.FEW anti-heroes in cinema are as off-putting yet pitiful as Francois (Deon Lotz), the middle-aged sawmill owner at the centre of this second feature from the young South African director Oliver Hermanus.
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Married and outwardly conservative, Francois leads a double life that involves meeting up in a secret rural location for sex with other men.

None of these men identify as gay; on the contrary, open homosexuals are strictly excluded from proceedings, along with non-whites.

Beauty plays no part in these mechanical orgies, bluntly filmed by Hermanus in a way that suggests a parallel with the glimpses we get of Francois' business with its mainly black employees.

Lonely and isolated, Francois seems caught in a trap of his own making, while his wife (Michelle Scott) has found her own way of coping with a sexless marriage.

New possibilities come into focus when Francois discovers his ideal love object in the son of an old friend: Christian (Charlie Keegan), a handsome law student and part-time model. Eventually, Francois follows the younger man to Cape Town, where his obsession gets out of hand with disastrous consequences.

As a study of how repression and hypocrisy can lead to madness, the film has a universal meaning. But it also paints a picture of South Africa as a land where all the old prejudices are alive and well, whether they relate to class, race, sexuality or gender.

Hope lies with the free-spirited Christian and his ability to step across boundaries, which the film associates with the post-apartheid generation in general (it hardly matters if the character is gay or straight).

Lotz gives a nuanced performance in a very difficult role, and Hermanus is plainly a talented director. He uses point-of-view shots with careful economy, keeping us ''inside'' Francois' perspective while still letting us see his character as puzzling and alien.

Equal attention is given to the lighting. Many of the interior scenes are deliberately drab: when Francois arrives at his Cape Town hotel room and lets the sun shine through a window, there's an instant sense of relief.

For all its assurance, Beauty is not an enjoyable film to watch.

The schematic story offers limited rewards in terms of ideas, and some viewers will consider the gruelling climax too high a price to pay.

Still, if Hermanus can maintain his steady gaze at unpleasant realities, he has an interesting career ahead.

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