Sydneysider Harry Joy (Barry Otto) is a successful advertising man, with a nice house, a wife he loves (Lynette Curran) and two children, David (Miles Buchanan) and Lucy (Gia Carides).
After a long birthday lunch, Harry has a heart attack in his garden. He dies – for four minutes – during which time he leaves his body and has a vision that frightens him back to life.
When he is revived, he realises he’s living in hell.
His wife Bettina (Curran) is openly having an affair with his business partner Joel (Jeff Truman), his son David sells cocaine, his daughter Lucy is an addict who gives her brother sexual favours in return for free drugs and Harry’s advertising agency promotes products that cause cancer.
Harry decides to be good when he meets Honey Barbara (Helen Jones), a north coast hippie beekeeper who dabbles in prostitution. He follows her to her commune in the forest and begins the long process of earning her trust, and his own redemption.
Based on a novel by Peter Carey, no Australian distributor would touch the film initially, especially once it received an ‘R’ classification, because of the depiction of incest between Harry’s children, David and Lucy.
The classification was overturned on appeal and the film eventually opened in the smallest cinema in Sydney, a former newsreel theatre with 130 seats.
A couple of glowing reviews helped it to find an audience that kept growing, and when the film won the AFI Awards for Best Picture, Best Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay for 1985, Bliss had become an art-house hit.
Sara De Teliga