30 November 2007
Hooray for Australian Cinema! (Part 2)
Peter Carstairs' September is a much better film than it has any right to be. The plot, when read as a 3 sentence synopsis, sounds like every coming-of-age tale you've ever read or seen, but this movie really is so much more. In his impressive first outing as a director, Carstairs' manages to take the story of the friendship between two boys, one white and one aboriginal, in 1968 Western Australia and use it to both critique Australia for its intolerant past and celebrate it for all its resilience and beauty.
The fields and skies of Australia have, in my admittedly limited experience, rarely been filmed as majestically or lovingly as they are here. Most of the action, wisely, takes place outdoors, in the middle of windswept fields and on the roof tops of farm houses. Every scene is full of Australia. At times, it's the film's third lead, for no scene in this film would have worked nearly as well transplanted elsewhere.
The two leads, Xavier Samuel and especially Clarence John Ryan, have the added benefit of being relatively unknown (to me, anyway) and do a fine job navigating their way through the adolescent akwardness of their characters. Mia Wasikowska, as the inevitable object of one character's affection, is filmed just as adoringly as the scenery around her and manages to leave an impression despite her relatively limited screen time.
The best performance, however, is given by Kieran Darcy-Smith as the father of Xavier Samuel's character, a man struggling to be both a realistic businessman and a progressive thinker in a situation supporting neither.
There are weak points, mainly with the adult Aboriginal characters who are too underwritten to make the film a truly balanced exercise, and a few scenes suffer from clunky historical dialog, most notably in a classroom discussion of the Apollo missions. Overall, though, the film's high points much outnumber its fumbles.
Not much more need be said about the plot. Twenty minutes in, it's doubtful you won't have already guessed where this is all going. The boys build a boxing ring for playful sparring, thus they come to blows for real near the end. One of them has a crush on a girl, thus this girl will cause a wedge between them (though maybe not in the way you expect). This is classic 'Chekhov's gun'. But, in the end, this film is really about Australia: its majesty, its history, its people.
One minor quibble: I would just like to say that never in my life have I seen a pair of bright red boxing gloves in the window of a small country grocery store. I haven't exactly visited a lot of small country grocery stores, but I would be very surprised to see them there.