Home playdates website trailer archives


I first came across Carl Jung’s term “synchronicity” at first year university in Melbourne. It refers to patterns of chance that appear to have meaningful significance, suggesting the existence of an unknown logic connecting otherwise unrelated elements. Most people experience examples of it from time to time: someone mentions an obscure writer you’ve never heard of, and the next book you pick up falls open at a page where he is mentioned again. We usually call these events coincidences, but some coincidences are so persistent or so unlikely one can suspect something else is at work.

When Gilda Bessé, Charlize Theron’s character in Head in the Clouds, experiences synchronicities, they reinforce her suspicion that life is pre-ordained. All her instincts rebel against this, her nature is to live life as freely and spontaneously as possible but events always conspire to renew that nagging doubt.

I once observed a palm reading, which in some respects resembled the one Gilda experiences early in the film. In the midst of a student party, a girl grabbed the hand of a friend of mine–we were both about nineteen–and insisted on reading his palm. Half drunk, and thoroughly sceptical, he gave her maybe half a minute while I looked on. She only came up with one comment. At age thirty, he would face a life-threatening illness. Nice party trick. But as it turned out, she was right, exactly to the year. Thankfully, after eight months of intense treatment, he recovered. Chance? Coincidence? A lucky guess?

In one of the drafts of Head in the Clouds, I wrote a scene set in the Luxembourg Gardens of Paris, where Gilda and Stuart Townsend’s character, Guy, are talking about fate. There has been a light fall of snow, and before they cross the grass Gilda refers to the footprints they are about to make, suggesting they are already there, as it were, “lying in wait.” In the final screenplay, because we were filming in summer, I transferred the substance of this scene to a walk on the banks of the Seine, and Gilda uses the same phrase later on in a letter.

It’s amazing how many people casually profess their belief in fatalism. “If it happens, it was meant to happen.” “It was meant to be.” “It was in the stars.” As if we are all basically the unwitting playthings of fate. Personally, I believe strongly in free will; it seems a pretty essential ingredient to any viable notion of morality, for one thing. But there are still times when things happen in my life that cause the same doubts Gilda experiences to resurface.

During filming, we encountered our usual share of seemingly inconsequential coincidences. One was during a location survey in Sussex in the south of England. In the early part of the film, there is a party at a very grand country house. In the screenplay I called it “Amberleigh”–I thought a good generic name for such a place. In the survey, we had been to several potential houses, and as we neared the last on the list, we passed a sign to the adjacent village. It was called Amberleigh. Perhaps inevitably, the house was the best we’d seen, and the one we used. A happy coincidence, that one, and we enjoyed a very pleasant pint in the Amberleigh pub after we had surveyed the mansion. Coincidentally a horse called Amberleigh House won the biggest horse race in England this year, the Grand National, maybe that’s a good sign too, but that one is pure coincidence, surely?


In pre-World War II Paris, bohemian aristocrat Gilda Bessé (Charlize Theron) shares hedonistic adventures with her lover Guy (Stuart Townsend) and friend Mia (Penélope Cruz), existing in a glamorous cocoon of wealth and pleasure as competing political movements battle for power outside the doors of her apartment. When war erupts in Spain, Guy and Mia follow their consciences to fight the Fascists while Gilda stays behind entertaining and bedding Nazis. Opposing ideals ultimately separate the friends, but love allows their destinies to collide one last time. Written and directed by John Duigan (Sirens).