Sunday, May 15, 2016


Frank is numb. He functions through his job and marriage aftermath but little more. One day he comes home and takes a call from his mother. She complains about her hip and chides him for smoking. After a fairly lengthy chat both realise that this is a wrong number and sign off awkwardly. Frank is disturbed. The conversation made him feel something. He'd call his real mother but she's been dead for months.

Haunted he calls the lady again. They begin a self-avowedly weird relationship which she, Sarah, recognises as a kind of mother surrogacy. Frank is so hooked on the contact that he has no idea of the potential nervous cataclysm it might bring him. But he has improved. His ex, from deep in her narcissistic profession as a successful actor, thinks he's got a new girlfriend.

I began this film with resistance. There are some overplayed scenes. Frank and his boss being intimidated by a lawn sprinkler is annoying rather than funny. The score is a jarring brass-heavy jazz which misdirects us into expecting an offbeat comedy. A few colourful character sketches later and my heart went looking for icebergs in preference to a couple of hours of Aussie-movie quirk.

But all of this eased as this quite beautiful film found its stride. Matthew Saville's return to the big screen after his continued tv work is welcome. I've been aware of him since Noise and watching this latest one bloom into cinema.

He is a filmmaker who puts his chops on the table but only ever just enough. A long track from behind two characters as they converse takes us into the bustle of a tv studio and the expense of the personal time that one of them pays. It's not just Scorsesean flash. If we note the train of girls in pink going past in the background holding helium balloons like escapees from a Wes Anderson shoot we also see in the same take the released balloons drift back across the sky behind the focussed characters. There's a point to them being children and letting go of things that fly. It's a broad brush but the stroke is gentle (which is more than I can say for anything by Wes Anderson. But what about -? No, none of them).

This is a tale of grief and the responsibility of survivors to do more living. The levity that this demands is expressed throughout as a kind of day-to-day wit that, while it does on occasion feel written, is delivered by this film's dream cast with a natural finish.

I've taken too long to write this review, time spent mostly in editing gushes, so I'll finish here by paying it two well-earned compliments. The first is that it is the best Australian cinema experience I've had since The Babadook: it is a film made of cinema (in case you were concerned that Saville was smuggling his tv work into the dark); it's scope and execution form a capsule for its audience.

The second compliment is that I was struck more than once in the atmosphere and quality of observation of the writing of Peter Carey. The sense of place (Adelaidean Saville composes a rich portrait of his native town) is exquisite and a lot of the dialogue is allowed to be absorbed between characters who mentally finish thoughts the way we do in real life. Finally, there is a spring garden on a day a degree or two too hot to comfortably wear a suit. Like the houses up for sale throughout and Frank's voiceover real estate summaries of them there is a sense of home and transition in the heat and the greenery of the back yard. This leads to the final image in which Frank wordlessly understands something he has previously failed to grasp. I left the cinema imagining how Carey might have put that for an Oscar Hopkins or a Harry Joy.

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