Dark, morose adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ seemingly unfilmable novel sees the death of a father in suburban Sydney result in a son’s return to the ancestral homeland in a remote part of Greece.
When Isaac (Ewen Leslie – The Daughter, The Nightingale) decides to take his father’s ashes back to Greece, he is acting against his mother’s wishes. But, in travelling to Europe, he discovers a schism in the extended family and, on a trip to his parent’s village, Isaac learns of his father’s dark secret and cursed history.
Neither parent had set foot in their homeland since leaving several decades earlier and slowly, Isaac begins to understand more. What he dismisses as superstition becomes something much darker and he is forced to confront the violent rumours of anti-Semitism of the past, the embedded bigotry in ‘old’ Europe and the nature of inherited guilt. As he searches for understanding, Isaac heads to Budapest and his estranged brother Nico (a deeply chilling Marton Csokas – The Last Duel, The Equalizer), a man involved in the gay-porn slave-trade.
It’s a bleak, twisted narrative from Tsiolkas and director Tony Krawitz (TV’s The Kettering Incident, Ready For This) that highlights the broken corruption of time before Isaac’s birth and their consequences in the present day. But the result a cold and emotionless feature.
A metaphorical rite of passage for Australian indigenous 21-year-old Djali (Hunter Page-Lochard), Spear is a creative cinematic dance drama from Stephen Page, artistic director of Bangarra Dance Company.
Steeped in cultural traditions but living in a westernised world, Djali journeys through men’s stories as he symbolically moves from adolescence to manhood, reconciling his identity as an indigenous male in contemporary Australian society. As, shot mostly in shadow, he and his male peers explore through movement distinct issues of adolescence and adulthood, so Aaron Pedersen (High Ground, Mystery Road) provides the only spoken commentary, a litany of concerns and issues facing the aboriginal male.
It’s a beautiful unravelling of dance and movement whether set in studios or the bush where movement is contextualised within its natural setting. Powerful, sublime storytelling complemented by a pitch-perfect soundtrack from the late David Page.
Psychological horror in the suburbs of Adelaide as a single mum confronts the fears of her son and the monster contained within their home.
Struggling with the grief of losing her husband in a car accident several years earlier, Amelia (Essie Davis – Nitram, Babyteeth) is exhausted by the demanding Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) nighttime routines and daytime aggression. As their relationship unravels, so the Babadook increases its presence in their everyday.
A sublime study of psychosis and PTSD as Amelia subconsciously blames Samuel for her husband’s death, The Babadook, with its excellent central performances, is a provocative and scary horror movie directed by Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale) in her feature film debut.
Winner of the 2015 AACTA award for best Australian Film.
Disquieting yet disjointed and at times unclear, this three part miniseries expands on the story of the Melbourne-based The Family cult lead by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a woman who conviced her followers she was Jesus reincarnated.
Active predominantly in the 1960s through to the ’80s, Hamilton-Byrne and husband Bill dominated and controlled her followers – including more than 30 children, many of whom she claimed to be her own. Charming and well-connected (including high ranking police officials, lawyers, medical profession), the two were virtually untouchable – in spite of reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse, isolation, starvation and administration of LSD to adults and children alike.
It’s a tragic tale as surviving children, now adults, talk to the camera of their pre-teen traumas and the lack of support from the authorities along with a system that allowed new born babies of single mothers to be adopted almost immediately after birth. The subject of many investigative reports as far back as the 1960s, achieved little in terms of change. Former police detective Lex de Man talks of the years of struggle to bring justice to the children and his own personal acceptance of the failure of the system.
Whilst The Cult of the Family ultimately raises too many unanswered questions, it does raise the moral judgement of the cult members who sat idly by or took a passively active role in the abuse of so many children. As well as a system that failed.
A touching, dark comedy from 1994, Muriel’s Wedding is something of an Australian classic and introduced both Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths to the world of film.
Social outcast, ABBA fan and unemployed, Muriel (Toni Collette – The Sixth Sense, Nightmare Alley) dreams of marriage as she drifts through dull, suburban life in Porpoise Spit, Queensland. Dad Bill (Bill Hunter – The Square, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) is a corrupt misogynist local councillor whilst the voiceless mom (Jeanie Drynan – Paperback Hero, Don’s Party) is a drudge to the rest of the layabout family. Escaping to Sydney, Muriel rooms with Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths – Hilary and Jackie, Hacksaw Ridge) and her life changes forever.
It’s light, it’s frothy, a dancing queen of a narrative that delves briefly into poignant, serious moments before writer/director PJ Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Mental) moves quickly on. Both women prove to be each other’s Waterloo at different points in a crowd-pleaser of a feature as Muriel travels a path of self-awareness and discovery.
Controversial Christos Tsoliakos novel Loaded adapted for the big screen, Head On is a confronting, sexualised drama of acceptance and rebellion.
Eldest son in a migrant Greek family, unemployed 19 year-old Ari (Alex Dimitriades – TV’s The Slap, The Principal) constantly clashes with his father. Good looking and a popular lad around the predominantly Greek Sydney neighbourhood, Ari is a closeted gay male involved in drugs and furtive sexual encounters.
Director Ana Kokkinos (The Book of Revelation, Blessed) perfectly captures the insular migrant environment of early 1990s Australia with its brutal, dog-eat-dog world of survival as Ari, with a mix of vulnerability and arrogance, confronts family and friends within his double life.
Adapted from a storyline within the novel The Dark Room by British writer Rachel Seiffert, Lore explores the impact politics and war has on ordinary, young lives.
As panic ensues with the Russian army moving into Germany, 14 year-old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl – Never Look Away, TV’s Berlin Babylon) is charged by her parents, senior members of the Nazi Party, with the safety of her four younger siblings. They must head north west and the relative safety of Hamburg and their grandparents. A country ravaged by war and faced with starvation, Lore must find a way to protect as she is confronted by the results of her parents beliefs – including needing the help of a young Jew (Kai-Peter Malina – The White Ribbon, Pilgrim) to travel cross-country.
An Australian/German coproduction directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault, Black Widow) and shot in German, Lore is a raw yet impressionistic gem of tension, fear and sensuality with a sublime soundtrack provided by Max Richter adding to the harrowing end of innocence.
Six related narratives dramatise the human impact of the 2019/20 Australian bushfires as lives, homes and livelihoods are destroyed by the worst fires in living memory.
As new volunteer firefighter Mott (Hunter Page-Lochard) is shown the ropes by Tash (Eliza Scanlen), a close relationship between the two develops – particularly after they find themselves stranded with fires on all sides. They survive and become the link between the separate narratives as they travel the remote, burning landscapes of New South Wales.
Five of the dramas are centred around a fictional area of NSW, the stand-alone sixth located on coastal Victoria (a fictionalised holiday destination based on Mallacoota). Inevitably, some of the narratives are stronger than others as the dramas focus on the people affected – those who lost everything (Richard Roxburgh and Miranda Otto – episode two and the strongest in the miniseries) through to the trauma of loss and survival. Anger and resentment, frustration and sheer unadulterated terror percolate throughout.
Fires is a humane, understated drama series that looks to the resilience of the everyday as long term residents, casual workers and tourists alike (mostly) come together in an attempt to overcome tragedy – and survive.
Celebration, empowerment, respect and tragedy are an integral part of Australian indigenous Bangarra Dance Company’s 30+ year history. Founded in Sydney in 1989, Stephen Page was appointed artistic director two years after its founding (a position he remained in until 2021). But where there’s one Page, there’s two other brothers – Russell and David. The three together, with Russell labelled the Nureyev of indigenous dance and David an award-winning musician and composer, made Bangarra one Australia’s leading performing arts companies.
Firestarter: the Story of Bangarra looks to the early history of the Page brothers and a total of 12 siblings in a poor Brisbane suburb. Their eventual move to Sydney in the mid 1980s and interest in performance led them eventually to Bangarra. Over the next 30 years, the company evolved from its base at a church hall to purpose built Sydney studios, an extensive education and outreach program and acclaim around the world.
But for all the company’s successes, the story is laced with tragedy as it carries the history of loss and intergenerational indigenous trauma. Both Russell (2002) and David (2016) died young as their legacies continue to be explored by Stephen (the middle brother), company members and adult children of Stephen and Russell.
Chocked full of archival footage and interviews with those integral to Bangarra’s establishment, including co-founders Carole Johnson, Cheryl Stone as well as current and former dancers and collaborators, Firestarter: the Story of Bangarra is engrossing and deeply moving. Directed by Nel Minchin and Wayne Blair, it’s an exploration of a history – of a family, of a company, of a culture.
A remote Pacific island dominated by an active volcano is the setting for a forbidden love story that challenges tradition among the Yakel tribe.
Promised to a warrior in an opposing tribe to calm hostilities, Wawa is attracted to her own chief’s grandson, the handsome Dain. Love is not part of tradition and the two are forced to flee, finding shelter in caves under the volcano. But this can be no happy ending as they are pursued by both enemy warriors and family members.
Based on a true story and working with a cast of non-professional actors, directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean (TV’s First Footprints, Contact) sensitively address the tribal culture in telling it’s Romeo and Juliet tale whilst creating a visual feast and celebration of a way of life.
Nominated for the 2017 best foreign language film Oscar.