By Garry Maddox
Less than a week after the federal government announced it would generate more than $25 million for the NSW economy, an American movie starring Natalie Portman and based on a novel by publishing phenomenon Elena Ferrante has fallen over in Sydney.
The Oscar-winning star of Black Swan has pulled out of shooting Days of Abandonment, which was written, directed and executive produced by Maggie Betts, who is best-known for the acclaimed 2017 religious drama Novitiate.
American cable network HBO, which had commissioned the movie, blamed “unforeseen personal circumstances” for Portman’s withdrawal before the start of filming.
She had been due to star – and also executive produce – alongside Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds).
Filming had been planned for Queen Street, Woollahra, on Monday this week.
Days of Abandonment, which was previously adapted for a 2005 Italian film, centres on Tess (Portman), whose world falls apart when she is abandoned by husband Oliver (Spall).
It was flagged as “a visceral, no-holds-barred journey into the mind of a woman in crisis that confronts the norms of motherhood and female identity as Tess traverses the darkest reaches of her own psyche”.
The movie would have added to a surge of overseas production since Australia became one of the world’s most COVID-safe filming locations last year.
It was adapted from a 2002 Italian novel by the secretive Ferrante whose Neapolitan quartet has sold more than 15 million copies in 45 languages and been adapted for the HBO series My Brilliant Friend.
“Unfortunately, the production will not move forward,” HBO said in a statement. “We are very sorry we won’t be able to bring this beautiful story to the screen with our talented writer-director and cast.”
The movie was due to be the second for Portman in Sydney this year after working on Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder with a stellar cast headed by Chris Hemsworth, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Chris Pratt, Russell Crowe, Tessa Thompson and Melissa McCarthy.
She has had an extended stay with her choreographer-director husband, Benjamin Millepied, shooting the movie Carmen in Sydney earlier this year. A contemporary version of the famous opera, it stars Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal and Elsa Pataky.
The Minister for Communications and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, said last week that Days of Abandonment was the latest production to be drawn in Australia with support from the federal government’s $540 million Location Incentive program.
After being granted $3.4 million, it was touted as creating more than 200 jobs for cast and crew, 500 extras roles and would use an estimated 400 businesses while filming in Sydney and regional NSW.
The plan was to emphasise female creatives and crew and support events to promote women’s leadership in the screen sector.
A spokesperson for the minister said no funding had been paid to the movie and the grant would be allocated to other productions.
“There is a strong pipeline of projects seeking funding under the program and there will be more announcements coming soon,” the spokesperson said.
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