5:15 PM, Sunday April 30
Australian Premiere: Introduced by Bruce Beresford

3:30PM, Monday May 01

Randwick Ritz

Director: Bruce Beresford
Country: USA
Year: 1983
Runtime: 92 minutes
Rating: PG
Language: English


"Bruce Beresford, in his first American film, directs with the fierce intensity of someone who undertstands the unique barren landscape of rural Texas." – Dennis Schwartz

Bruce Beresford’s triumphant film earned Oscars for Robert Duvall (Best Actor) and for Horton Foote (screenplay); the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Beresford was nominated for Best Director. Mac Sledge (Duvall) is a washed-up, alcoholic country and western singer who finds solace and affection with a widow (Tess Harper) and her 10-year-old son (Allen Hubbard) on a Texan prairie. In Beresford’s words it’s about “a man finding a new life, a woman finding a new husband, and the boy a new father. It is a story of growing together and of hope”.

Screens on the occasion of the film’s 40th anniversary since its original release.

“For Bruce Beresford, Mac Sledge is as much a folk hero as the rough-riding balladeer in Breaker Morant…the astonishing purity of Duvall’s performance, itself a kind of marvel, allows us to believe Sledge has found a home.” — Carol Flake, Vanity Fair

“Tender Mercies is so good that it has the effect of rediscovering a kind of film fiction that has been debased over the decades by hack moviemakers.” — Janet Maslin, New York Times

“You see, I don’t trust happiness.” — Mac Sledge

Watch Robert Duvall accept the Oscar for Best Actor, here.

The 5:15pm screening on Sunday 30 April will be introduced by Bruce Beresford, director of over 30 feature films and nominated for an Academy Award for Tender Mercies.

By Helen Goritsas

Bruce Beresford
Australian director Bruce Beresford is well-known for his work in both Hollywood and Australia and has made more than thirty feature films throughout his career. Beresford was born in Paddington in 1940. Before making his feature directorial debut with the film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972), which he co-wrote with Barry Humphries, Beresford graduated from Sydney University in 1964 and began his career as a film editor.

Beresford went on to direct a number of other successful Australian films, including ‘Don's Party (1976), The Getting of Wisdom (1977), The Club (1980) Breaker Morant (1980) and Puberty Blues (1981). Breaker Morant  was selected for competition at the Cannes Film Festival and earned Beresford an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. This nomination led to the opportunity to direct Tender Mercies (1983) starring Robert Duvall, which was in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Picture.

In the 1980s, following the success of Tender Mercies  Beresford began working in Hollywood, directing films such as Crimes of the Heart (1986), starring Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, and Jessica Lange that was nominated for three Academy Awards and the critically acclaimed Driving Miss Daisy (1989) which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Jessica Tandy.

In the 1990s and 2000s, he directed films both in Australia and in Hollywood, including Black Robe (1991) which won the Canadian award for Best Film and Best Director, Silent Fall (1994) which competed for a Golden Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, Paradise Road (1997), Double Jeopardy (1999) and Evelyn (2002).

Beresford has also directed the film Mao's Last Dancer (2009), which was adapted from Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin's memoir, and was nominated for eight Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Director and Roots (2016) (TV), a reimagining of the iconic mini-series. His most recent film was the Australian feature Ladies in Black(2018). In addition to his contribution to cinema, Beresford has also directed several Theatre and Opera productions. Bruce Beresford is regarded as one of Australia's most successful and well-respected directors and has helped to bring Australian cinema to international audiences.

The Film
Critically acclaimed and widely regarded as a classic of American cinema, Tender Mercies (1983), Australian director, Bruce Beresford’s, American debut feature, and for which Beresford was nominated for a Best Director Oscar, starring Robert Duvall, Tess Harper and Betty Buckley, is at its heart a sophisticated and introspective, anti-Hollywood drama.

Tender Mercies has a minimalist outlook that puts the focus on the characters and their connections. Screenwriter Horton Foote, (To Kill a Mockingbird), who wrote Tender Mercies especially for Duvall, creates a modest and richly satisfying narrative that garnered both he and Duvall, Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, respectively.

Tender Mercies is a nuanced work that captures the intricacy and beauty of daily life through a subtle and stirring study of the value of small and incidental acts of kindness and the bonds they form. The film chronicles the personal troubles of a middle aged, washed-up but gifted country and western singer, Mac Sledge (Duvall). It becomes immediately obvious that Mac is an alcoholic, who has lost his sense of self-worth, his music career, and his family.

Penniless after spending the previous night drunk, the film follows Mac as he struggles to rebuild his life and reconcile with his past. Like the relentless howling wind, a recurring motif in the film, representing life’s hardships and the mystery of God’s will, he ‘blows in’ to Rosa Lee’s (Tess Harper) life, and is saved and in turn saves, the young, sympathetic Vietnam War widow who owns a rundown roadside motel and gas station, deep in rural Texas.

Mac is a conflicted man who has made a lot of mistakes, yet despite his failings, he gradually tries to turn his life around and mend it back together. He begins to see the possibility of a new life for himself through his connection with Rosa Lee and her young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard) who take him in and give him a second chance at love and fatherhood.

Tender Mercies is a gentle and quiet film that has escaped obscurity despite its daringly subdued and uncommon tone to that of contemporary film. Simply told the story is in no way spectacular or extravagant rather it is about the little, ordinary moments that make up life. The rhythm of the film is patient, precise and expertly paced, so much so that Tender Mercies never feels hurried or forced, allowing the audience to empathise with the characters and their troubles and the story to unfold naturally and authentically.

Presented in a measured and understated manner, the films emphasis on character growth and emotional depth produces a profoundly compelling and heartfelt narrative that lets the feelings and experiences of the characters speak for themselves. This enables the story to be emotionally evocative while deftly examining complicated issues like atonement, loss and the importance of human connection.

The idea of atonement is one of the main themes of the film. Tender Mercies unsentimentally examines the notion that it's never too late to change your life and atone for previous transgressions. Beresford employs a variety of motifs to communicate this central theme. The film’s opening image of a hawk flying over the countryside is a metaphor for Mac’s personal journey of self-realisation and redemption. Mirrors are also frequently found in the interiors, reflecting the path of the protagonist and his own uncertainty and self-doubt.

Tender Mercies is extraordinarily touching largely because it effectively grapples with a variety of central concerns to the human condition. The meaning of home and family as well as belonging are significant elements that are explored. The work addresses the idea that perhaps family should be defined less by blood ties and more by those who love and stand by us.

Tender Mercies is characterised by a sense of sorrow and regret and yet despite the grief and loss, there is still beauty and grace to be found. This melancholic and nostalgic tone encourages viewers to think about their own lives and the things that are most important to them. Serving as a gentle reminder to value what we have and make the most of our time together.

Intrinsically a character driven drama the performances reverberate with a sensibility and honesty that is extraordinarily touching to experience. Robert Duvall is exceptional in his role as Mac Sledge. His performance is nuanced and understated, revealing the tragedy of his character's inner turmoil with a vulnerability and gentleness that is truly moving.

Duvall brings a sense of weariness, quiet dignity and fragility to the role. His performance exemplifies his astonishing versatility as an actor and his capacity to communicate, with a keen feeling of emotional candour, the intricacies of human nature. Duvall graceful portrait has complexity and depth, the uneasiness and regret of an imperfect and broken man. He imbues his character with a powerful and devastating sense of exhaustion through the restrained physicality of his facial expressions, his tone of voice and the deliberate slowness of his movements that make the atonement of his characters journey so engrossing and affecting to behold. 

The character of Rosa Lee, who has also endured heartache and loss is powerfully portrayed by Tess Harper in this, her theatrical film debut. Harper infuses the role with an air of perseverance, compassion, and loving patience that is both endearing and engrossing to watch. Her onscreen chemistry with Duvall is palpable and extraordinarily poignant, as the two performers play off one another with tenderness and sensitivity in a way that feels real and deeply felt. Some of the most memorable and emotionally convincing sequences for the audience are between the two of them as it is Rosa Lee’s love for Mac that makes him want to be a better man.

The supporting cast is as impressive. Dixie Scott, Mac’s ex-wife and former singing partner, is played by Betty Buckley. She brings a sense of drive and ambition to the role which is profoundly flawed and all too human. Her scenes with Duvall are tense and emotionally charged which deepens our understanding of Mac’s character and their past relationship. In her brief but impactful portrayal as Sue Anne, Mac’s estranged daughter, Ellen Barkin also leaves an emotionally raw and lasting impression.

The visual language employed in Tender Mercies is exquisite. Beresford and Cinematographer Russell Boyd combine a variety of visual methods to evoke a tone that is both modest and contemplative. The film's naturalistic appearance is a result of the lighting and muted colour scheme. Natural light and subdued hues are used to great effect throughout the film, adding to its subtle elegance and underscoring the emotional impact of the story with a feeling of visual poetry. A variety of subdued browns, greens, and greys, are used to portray the rural American South as both sombre and beautiful. While the evening landscapes are dominated by dark shadows eliciting a sense of dread, the daytime sequences are flooded with dazzling sunlight.

Shot on location in Waxahachie, Texas, Boyd, strikingly captures breathtaking images of the desolate countryside and its vast open vistas, through a variety of long, protracted tracking shots to evoke a feeling of sparseness, seclusion and loneliness. The peaceful hypnotic nature of the endless expanses and arid highways are utilised to evoke a sense of place and identity that contrast vividly with the emotional upheaval of the protagonists' interior landscape.

The films framing and unobtrusive camera work helps give the characters more depth and dimension. The camera frequently lingers on the actors' faces enhancing the richness of the actors’ restrained performances by capturing their emotions and the finer details of their small gestures and expressions. Conveying a sense of intimacy, authenticity and reality these techniques create both a sense of alienation and closeness giving the audience the impression that they are travelling with the characters through the story and the environment and allowing the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the films fictional world.

Ties to the austere Texas plains are also expertly woven and reinforced by the distinctive and emotionally resonant Country and Western music, which is employed to imbue a feeling of time, remembrance, gratitude and to immerse the audience into the realities and harshness of the surroundings.

The film offers an emotionally poignant and deeply moving reflection on the power of music to inspire, connect and heal. The music serves a narrative, thematic and aesthetic purpose. Mac is a musician who has lost meaning and purpose in life and his love for his art. Throughout ‘Tender Mercies’ Duvall sings and performs traditional country and original songs such as ‘It Hurts to Face Reality’, ‘Fools Waltz’, ‘If You’ll Hold The Ladder’ (I’ll Climb to the Top) and ‘On The Wings Of a Dove’. These songs perfectly express his grief and are skilfully incorporated into the story to help the listener better comprehend his experiences and feelings.

Serving as a metaphor for Mac’s emotional healing, music, plays a crucial and central role adding a delicate yet significant level of intricacy and depth to the narrative. One of the most moving and heartbreaking scenes in the film has Mac singing the gospel song ‘On the Wings of a Dove’ without instrumental accompaniment. When Sue Ann, beautifully played by Ellen Barkin, pays Mac an unexpected visit in an attempt to connect with him she shares a memory of a tune he once lulled his baby girl to sleep to. “There was a song you used to sing to me when I was little, I think…it was something about a dove”. Mac tells her he doesn’t recall the song. Sue Ann then leaves.

Looking out the window once she has departed, Duvall begins to sing the lullaby a rendition of ‘On the Wings of a Dove’ with great humility and profound despair. This memory is too painful and his regret and love for Sue Anne too real. Deeply moving, Duvall’s performance in this scene is one of the most quietly heart breaking and sorrowful moments ever committed to celluloid.

In Tender Mercies Beresford offers viewers a lasting meditation on the power of cinema to illuminate profoundly human stories. Every frame of the film skilfully displays his meticulous attention to detail, from the potent performances to the rigorous storytelling, thoughtful cinematography and stirring soundtrack. Beresford's directing is a tribute to his talent, having crafted a film that is insightful and painfully moving as a result of its faithfulness to reality.

The Restoration:
Tender Mercies is presented on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the film’s release. The digital copywhich contains Bruce Beresford’s original ending,  a sequence not always included in some copies of the film, has been made available through the kind cooperation of NBCUniversal in the United States and StudioCanal in Australia.


Director: Bruce BERESFORD | USA | 92 mins | 2K Flat DCP (orig. 35mm, 1.85:1) | Colour | Mono Sd. | English | (PG).

Production Companies: Antron Media Productions, EMI Films | Producer: Philip S. HOBEL, Horton FOOTE, Robert DUVALL | Script: Horton FOOTE | Photography: Russell BOYD | Editor: William M. ANDERSON | Art Direction: Jeannine OPPEWALL | Sound: Stan BOCHNER, Jay DRANCH, Dan LIEBERSTEIN, Chris NEWMAN, Maurice SCHELL, Dick VORISEK | Music: George DREYFUS | Costumes: Elizabeth MCBRIDE.

Cast: Robert DUVALL (‘Mac Sledge’), Tess Harper (‘Rosa Lee’), Betty BUCKLEY (‘Dixie’), Wilford BRIMLEY (‘Harry’), Ellen BARKIN (‘Sue Ann’), Allan HUBBARD (‘Sonny’).

Cinema Reborn acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, learn and work. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.