Reflections in the Dust (2018) ***

July 1st, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Luke Sullivan; Cast: Sarah Houbolt, Robin Royce Queere, Aldo Fedalo, Ali Aitken; Australia 2018, 75 min.

Young Australian director/writer Luke Sullivan (You’re Not Thinking Straight) really pushes the boundaries out in this ominous post-aplocalyptic tale that combines elements of documentary and fiction by doing away with a conventional narrative, and casting a severely sight-impaired actress Sarah Houbolt, who is suffering from Hallermann/Steiff syndrome, in the lead role. And he succeeds. REFLECTIONS IN THE DUST breathes through claustrophobic, vivid imagery accompanied by an unsettling soundtrack.

In this tragic portrait of loneliness, we first meet Freckles (Houbolt) muttering ‘I don’t believe in love because I’ve never seen it’ to a faceless interviewer in the opening moments of the film. She ekes out an existence with her father who is an ageing paranoid schizophrenic clown (Queere) near a lakeside swamp, where the  act out a father daughter relationship, scavenging for food from washed up detritus. The clown oscillates between tenderness and aggression towards Freckles, who often blackens her face with shoe polish, and plays with an action man toy who she talks to like a child. One day she meets a moustachioed stranger in a beret, who reveals that her ‘Mom’ died in a circus accident, but the clown becomes aggressive towards the man and tells him to: “Go back! You are mad”. And later when a gypsy woman (Aitken) brushes Freckles’ hair lovingly, the clown sinks into a catatonic stupor, as he loses his adopted identity, acting out in bizarre ways: swinging a hammer, biting a tree and licking its bark. As fear, paranoia and anger consume these lost souls, the film sporadically switches between this fictional world and increasingly traumatic real-life interviews, until it reaches a shocking conclusion.

 It would be too easy to compare Reflections to a Beckett play or a drama by Tarkovsky, but Sullivan’s docu-drama is unique. This is total dystopia where everything is reduced to its lowest common denominator. The central characters play out base identities in re-enacting family life – symbolically, the few pieces of simple furniture slowly sink into the swamp.

DoP Ryan Barry-Cotter uses very little light for his grainy black-and-white images, and it comes as a shock when garish colour images occasionally flood the screen for a few seconds. But what really stands out is Houbolt’s tour de force that conveys the anguish of person lost in a world of voices and vague images. The ex-paralympian swimmer is simply stunning in her expressionist angst, in a performance that will resonate for a for a very long time.

Director Luke Sullivan is at the forefront of the next generation of Australian filmmakers. At a remarkably young age, he is now in the company of renowned Australian directors including Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence), Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) and David Michôd (The Rover) who have previously screened at Karlovy Vary. MT

World premiere at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2018 | IMAGINA 

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