I saw this at the wonderful State Theatre where the sound system, screen and setting highlighted the brilliance of the multi-talented Director Ivan Sen’s cinematography and music. This mystery and thriller follows on from his previous feature Mystery Road, also staring Aaron Pedersen as the hero, Indigenous detective Jay Swan.
The film starts brilliantly just with some of Ivan’s music and some well selected glass plate negative images from various state libraries and archives. They looked brilliant on the big screen and I was reminded of the same technique being used in Ken Burns’ Civil War series.
The two leads and twin heroes of the film are Aaron as Jay and Alex Russell as Josh the local policeman. Alex takes us on a personal discovery of his true character and Aaron learns more of his past. Almost stealing the first part of the film with a very dignified and mystic screen presence is David Gulpilil as Jimmy, a local elder. One of the film’s highlights for me was the bark canoe journey that Jimmy takes Jay on through what looks to be a sacred local gorge. He seemed to me to be singing the local history to Jay through their journey in that gorge. Gorges like this always look like natural cathedrals to me.
Apart from that gorge, the rest of the scenery is almost all desolate – barren, rocky and dusty, but Ivan arranges some beautiful overhead shots that are perfectly framed to highlight the natural colours. These are almost like one of Fred Williams’ later paintings from a similar perspective.
The film reminds us of the choices we make in life and the costs and consequences they have on others and our environment.
The two key creepy baddies in the film are played by Jacki Weaver and David Wenham. Both seem to almost be reprising corrupt creepy bad character roles from previous films. Jacki is a convincingly strong-willed greedy evil manipulator, but I think it is too close to her matriarch role from Animal Kingdom. And David needs to develop a new creepy look that doesn’t involve an awful hair style, some 1980s glasses and clothes from the era of the safari suit. My only other small gripe is that I think we could have seen and heard more of Aaron’s Jay. Jay seemed to have a much stronger presence in Mystery Road.
Both Aaron and Ivan made brief appearances on stage before the film started and answered a couple of questions. The SFF do this kind of thing very well.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)
Violence, not knowing, so many feels, adolescence, sexual identity and discovery, teenage angst, and sexual tension. No Griselda, I was not binge-watching Home and Away! Quelle horreur! And I say that with some meaning and cleverness because Being 17 is a very French film. Of course I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Being 17 is a long film at almost two hours, but the story is told very well without being heavy handed, and easily held my attention. (This is no small feat!) It is a gently-paced story that focuses on two teenage boys finding their way in life in a small village somewhere in the French Pyrenees. Part of their journey is their gradual sexual awakening that is accompanied by an increasing desire for each other. It isn’t all smooth sailing and nor is it predictable and full of cliches.
The cast are all well chosen and bring a rare authenticity to their respective roles. The acting from the two young boys is consistently great, even in the sex scene, and their attraction to each other seems very realistic. There are a number of touching scenes and these are all handled very sensitively. (I didn’t end up crying.)
The cinematography and scenery is beautiful, especially some scenes in the snow and high in the mountains, but it isn’t self-indulgent and the camera doesn’t dwell anywhere unnecessarily.
Being 17 was my opening film for SFF in 2016 and it sets the bar pretty high from the outset. I guess the film made me think about my own coming of age and brought up some memories of similarly confusing situations that were probably based around some kind of sexual tension or desire. It was good to see that it was probably a full house. What a shame that we don’t get the chance to see movies like this more often in Australia. They leave the pretentious Hollywood dross for dead.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4
1 – Special, but not in a good way.
2 – Pretty ordinary really.
3 – Not especially special.
4 – Most people would think this to be special.
5 – Especially special, or as Bruce would say “Oh, that’s special!”
My rather ambitious list.
Sorry I’ve not been around for a long while. It’s a long story and not really one I can tell right now. At least I can talk SFF. Last year I swore that I would be more selective and not try to see too many films or at least not see too many on any one day. Well, that just didn’t happen. So here is my list with a short explanation about why I selected that film.
Being 17 I’m a sucker for most French films that tell personal stories and this one is about a gay/queer relationship. Unlike many I also don’t mind coming of age stories. I may cry.
(I’m then away for work on the next two days of the festival, 9 & 10 June. Oh no!)
Goldstone I guess this outback noir thriller could bomb, but I’ve liked Aaron Pedersen in most things he has done and it looks interesting. I also like thrillers and it looks a bit eccentric. Hopefully the storytelling will be good.
High Rise “Tom Hiddleston heads a fabulous cast (Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller) …” Well you got me right there. This is also described as a sociopolitical satire, so that too grabs me. I’m sure Tom will forget to put his shirt on at some stage.
It’s Only The End of the World This Xavier Dolan film is sure to be one of the most talked about at the festival, if only because it is a film by Xavier Dolan. I’ve loved and hated some of his earlier work, but who could miss a film with both Gaspard Ulliel and Vincent Cassel? I guess some people could, but I cannot.
War on Everyone I’m a huge fan of John Michael McDonagh. The Guard and Cavalry were both marvellous. Not just for the laughs and the humanity that ran deep through both, but for his fantastic ability to tell a story and entertain with the English language. J.M. McDonagh makes brilliant films and understands what cinema should be able to do!
Goat Pure escapism. Oh, and the James Franco cameo.
Land of Mine I’m a bit of a sucker for good war stories and this one is bound to be surprising and somewhat confronting. It is based on a true story that I’ve not heard or read about so that’ll be good too. I hope I don’t have to cry.
Rosita I wonder whether this will be as good as an old John Clarke film on the same subject A Matter of Convenience? In any case I watch enough stuff on SBS to be a fan of both of the male leads Jens Albinus (The Idiots, The Eagle, Borgen, Everything Will be Fine and Deutschland 83) and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (The Legacy, Royal Affair and he is also in Land of Mine, above). I like a lot of Danish productions.
Europe She Loves I added this one at the last minute to fill in some time between Rosita and Demolition with a friend of mine who is also going to both. I think this is my only documentary this year. It is said to be a frank and revealing look at four couples in four different countries. Hopefully it is more humorous than gut-wrenching.
Demolition No, I didn’t select this just because of Jake Gyllenhaal! It was mostly because he is said to be good in it, but it also sounds like a decent emotional yarn. And who can resist a sad Jake?
Desde Allá This queer drama from Venezuela looks confronting. I’ve seen a very similar story handled very well in a recent French film (that I cannot remember now but I will eventually), so it’ll be interesting to see how the psychological drama is handled here. I’ve heard good things about it.
The Endless River This one is a bit of a punt, but it was written up as being beautifully shot and brutally realistic, so I’m hoping for an engrossing experience.
Teenage Kicks Selected for most of the same reasons as Being 17, but this queer drama is Australian.
Red Christmas I had to have one horror film and it is in Newtown, so close to home if I get scared. Apparently this Australian film has an axe plus thrills and kills. Little else is required.
Everybody Wants Some!! Richard Linklater’s latest film has had some good press and it looks pretty enjoyable.
Closet Monster Another queer coming of age / coming out film. But this one also has a touch of horror and the young Canadian film maker Stephen Dunn is already attracting critical acclaim. Connor Jessup plays the main character and he was great in American Crime recently. So I’m ending my festival in much the same genre as I began it.
16 films all up. Wish me luck. (I hope my boss allows me to take my annual four days of SFF leave!)