3 August 2008 | tclark-5
Heartfelt but compromised.
I was fortunate to see this at a Melbourne Film Fest screening today and was glad to see that the audience enjoyed it. It's obvious that a lot of love has gone in to its production. Some comments I heard on the way out were 'beautiful', 'emotional' and 'poetic'. I was disappointed not to feel the same way because I really wanted to be able to recommend this film unreservedly, for a number of reasons: its setting, in Melbourne's western suburbs (in many locations I knew from my own adolescence), is so rarely seen on our screens, despite what director Pene Patrick pointed out as its obvious poetry; and the characters in the film tackle small-scale, everyday problems, and are flawed. These things made me want to like the film, but Patrick's script and direction are so lacklustre that the experience for me was one of frustration and, at times, boredom.
It was great to have cast and crew on hand for a Q&A after the film. It certainly helped to clarify for me some of the film's problems. When Patrick was asked how she got such beautiful performances out of her actors, she said that she just got "beautiful actors" and the rest worked itself out. She also said that she chose to include rugby union in the film (rather than AFL) because she knew it better than AFL. Both of these comments suggested to me an element of laziness on her part as director. I often felt, watching the film, that the actors were floundering, left with little to do but deal with the most surface elements of their characters (particularly Jodie Rimmer as Paula). It also seemed strange that the main character seemed to have no relationship whatsoever with the vastly more accessible (in Melbourne, anyway) AFL code.
She also mentioned that the film's visual style was influenced by the stories of the Brothers Grimm (an explanation for which I could find no basis), that she got Lisa Gerrard to do the music because she was listening to Gerrard's music when she was writing and that she included the line from the Thomas Gray poem because she read it around the time she was writing. It added up to make her seem like a spoiled child who got everything she wanted in her film simply because she was thinking of it when she was writing.
Which raises the issue of the elephant in the room: the film's finance. Producer Franziska Wagenfeld pointed out before the film started that she was extremely grateful to the film's executive producer for helping finance the movie, but in the Q&A afterwards refused to be drawn on the issue of who had privately financed the movie. When I noticed in the credits that the executive producer happens to share the same surname as the writer/director, I got thinking...
Now, I readily admit I have no hard evidence of any relationship (familial or otherwise) between the exec producer and the director, but it certainly seemed to make sense in the context of everything that was said before and after the screening. It would certainly help to explain why Pene Patrick may have gotten away with things other directors might be taken to task on...
All this said, I really hope people enjoy the film as much as many in the audience seemed to. There are some good performances, particularly by Jared Daperis in the demanding lead, and Shane Connor as his coach, and Lisa Gerrard's score is lovely (though not entirely well-suited). It seems, however, that the film's (carefully guarded) origins may have served up an artistically compromised end product.