Well-crafted male angst

Cassi Plate

The 14 feature films contending for this year’s Australian Film Industry Award constitute a bumper crop of impressive variety ranging from Ivan Sen’s powerful Beneath Clouds to Phil Noyce’s Rabbit-proof Fence and David Caesar’s Dirty Deeds. The lesser-known category of Short Fiction (under 30 minutes) displays notably less diversity, with the 4 finalists (out of 65 contenders) each playing out variations on a theme: male-angst-on-the-move. Two are set in Melbourne and 2 in Sydney.

Several of the finalist directors are products of film training institutions: Eve of Adha is written and directed by Leonard Yip from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), and follows a young Muslim man (intensely played by Paul Rene) facing a range of tormenting ethical decisions; the only film not to locate its angst within the confines of a modern, luxurious lifestyle. Into the Night, directed by Tony Krawitz from the Australian Film Television and Radio School, purportedly reflects the life of a street rent boy, but the first sweep of saccharine music, the principal casting, and the film’s main location within a sumptuous apartment suggest otherwise. It is unadventurous but slick and technically proficient, bearing the stamp of AFTVRS as an industry training ground, just as the VCA film, Eve of Adha, demonstrates the creativity associated with its art school genesis.

Eve of Adha opens with a quotation: “Everyone begins the morning by trading with his soul; he either wins it or ruins it.” The daily dilemma and existential loneliness of the main character is evoked and enriched through the use of an exceptionally good soundtrack featuring Middle Eastern inflected music composed by Justin Ryda and M. Nasir. Location sounds are withdrawn from the sound mix as Rene’s character prays, at home on his prayer mat or in an empty mosque, creating moments of clarity and suspension of time. While the minimal script is slightly awkward, subtle use of colour and textured surfaces in the interior sequences, and tightly framed shots create a compelling atmosphere, mirroring the protagonist’s mix of calm moments amidst inner turmoil. At times, it is the most visually interesting and provocative of the 4 finalists.

Roundabout, the directorial debut by Rachel Griffiths, also makes creative use of sound design and music (David Bridie is screen composer), and the flair of cinematographer Tristan Milani (The Boys) drives its narrative about an alienated businessman cracking under pressure. The film is cleverly structured and also concerned with the disruption of the flow of time. Roundabout features the protagonist’s car trip—the driver departs for the city from a stark cube in a wealthy suburb and gradually spirals out of control on the freeway in a series of imaginatively conceived and executed shots. But like a polished advertisement it slides over and away, the credits rolling as copiously as a feature film.

The longest of the 4 finalist films, The Host, is shot in chic black and white, its story again played out against luxurious contemporary architecture (which could have inspired the film—it comes to feature as a silent character in the story). Director Nicholas Tomnay (a past graduate of the College of Fine Arts, Sydney) sets up a host of expectations and stereotypes, only to cleverly turn them on their head. This is a film with a great deal of quirky humour, and despite its play upon illusion and decadence, it achieves a sense of veracity, partly though its casting and performances. The Host elegantly realises the potential of the short film medium through its finesse of form, exploiting the dynamic of this medium through skilful and beautifully paced editing. Robert Moss’s music creates a joyful thread throughout, working at times in counterpoint to disturbing events on screen.

The high level of skilful filmmaking in these 4 short films, and the (mostly) welcome integration between sound and image, with the music working as an integral part of the affect rather than a last-minute add-on, are strong indications of the vibrant state of filmaking at the moment, notwithstanding the difficulties associated with distribution and actually reaching audiences. I am left wondering however about the male angst; is this the post-Lantana theme of the early 21st century?

Eve of Adha, writer-director Leonard Yip, producer Chris McGill; Into the Night, director Tony Krawitz, writer Cath Moore, producers Melissa Johnston, Rachel Clements; Roundabout, writer-director Rachel Griffiths, producers Louise Smith, Jason Byrne; The Host, director Nicholas Tomnay, writers Nicholas Tomnay, Krishna Jones. producers Nicholas Tomnay, Alison Clentsmith, Linda Ujuk.

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 30

© Cassi Plate; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002