Posts Tagged ‘Australian indie’

Reflections in the Dust (2018) ***

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 

Mystery Road (2013) | DVD release

Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Main Actors: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten

121 mins Australian. Thriller

At the beginning of Mystery Road, a truck driver stops by the roadside in atmospheric silhouette and, walking further into the darkness of the ominously titled ‘Massacre Creek’, finds the murdered corpse of a teenage Aboriginal girl. Finding the girl’s murderer becomes the first big case for indigenous Australian detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), freshly returned from a jaunt around the ‘big city’. But tracking down the killer within a small community where everyone knows everyone proves surprisingly tricky – not least because no one seems to want the crime solved, not even Swan’s fellow police colleagues. Are they really as understaffed as they make out, or are they part of some conspiracy involving the girl’s death? Or is it simply the case that, for them, life only matters when it’s white?

Mystery Road may be a sun-drenched noir in which an outsider works alone to try and solve a crime, but at its heart there lies some taut social observation. At times, Writer-Director-Editor-Cinematographer-Composer Ivan Sen cuts away as characters talk, showing us other people nearby going about their business. Sometimes these people return later in the story, sometimes not – but the effect is always an increase in texture. It’s at moments like these when the film is at its most interesting, when it feels like the nuances will build to a compelling whole. But, unfortunately, they never do.

In addition to its exploration of ingrained racism, there are flirtations with themes of time, memory and absence, but too often it feels like neither these themes, nor the police procedural plot, are enough to keep interest afloat. Things are buoyed along by some skewered humour, an off-kilter tone, and an excellent supporting performance from Hugo Weaving, but somehow, despite it all, the film simply feels a little too slight to sustain its two-hour runtime. It’s not so much that attention flags, but more that one starts to question the point – something not helped by the film’s unsatisfying conclusion.  With a little more weight to balance our engagement, Mystery Road could perhaps have been great. But, as it is, I fear it may prove to be an enjoyable but all-too-forgettable experience. Alex Barrett.





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