Details: 89 mins, Australia, English
Synopsis: Venice (Alice McConnell) is a poet with a penchant for jotting words on sticky notes and picking the wrong guy. Her ex-hippie dad Arthur (Garry McDonald) is in town to teach a writing course and he's sleeping on her sofa; it's the closest they've been in years. Arthur is more focussed on what he's eating than his daughter – except when she's shagging in the bed only metres away. Much has been left unsaid over the years, and as words begin to bubble up, Venice lurches from one misstep to another.
Quirky Aussie drama falls flat.
Random incidents are thrown into the script for pure convenience instead of arising from the dramatic situation
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The New Zealand-born, Australian-based filmmaker and published poet Miro Bilbrough has taken a while to work up to her debut feature. She won admirers with her appealingly poetic 1995 debut short, Urn, and again with her short dramas Bartleby (adapted from a Herman Melville story) and 2003’s Floodhouse. The latter, at roughly an hour, almost a feature, looked at a teenage girl in a rainforest feral community.
Her sadly disappointing full-length feature debut, Being Venice, could be about the same girl several years later. The title has nothing to do with the Italian city but is the name of the protagonist (a rather one-note Alice McConnell), a young woman who lives in a spacious one-room flat above an old Sydney pub and describes herself as a poet – though she never seems to do much writing bar scribbling the odd line onto post-it stickers.
It gradually emerges Venice is vaguely troubled but it takes a while to figure out what her issues are and where they spring from. In the opening scenes, her boyfriend breaks up with her – but from all appearances this was not exactly a grand passion, so who cares?
She also has to handle her ex-hippy Dad (Garry McDonald) arriving in town and sleeping on her sofa while he does some teaching – a mild annoyance for anyone, perhaps, even those who get on with their father (as Venice initially appears to do), but hardly the cause of a major drama.
The third development in the protagonist’s life: she steals a friend’s boyfriend, a post-graduate student and TAFE lecturer, then tries to make amends.
If you’re wondering at what point the story begins, you are not alone. Bilbrough seems to have set out to create a sensitive and subtle portrait of a troubled or confused young woman, inspired perhaps by Cate Shortland’s debut, Somersault, and her own life experiences. But where Shortland clearly laid out the reasons for her heroine’s emotional difficulties at the start before moving on to an almost forensic dissection of the character’s behavioural response (promiscuity), Bilbrough leaves her viewers confused as to exactly what’s going on with Venice. By the time we discover that she has unresolved issues with Dad (not really a spoiler, given this is so anti-climactic), it’s really too late to care.
For a few years, the Australian Writers Guild has argued there are too many writer-directors in the Australian film industry – the result of an undervaluing of professional writers. This is a debatable assumption – some of our best relatively recent features, such as David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, have come from writer-directors.
But Being Venice is a clear case of a film that would have almost certainly have benefited from a close collaboration between its director and an experienced screenwriter. Its flaws are basic ones that might easily have been avoided. Viz. there is no inciting incident worthy of the name. The action is largely inconsequential or trivial. Random incidents, such as Venice diving and hitting her head on a rock, are thrown into the script for pure convenience instead of arising from the dramatic situation.
Another elementary flaw arises from the direction: it’s initially hard to figure out in which period the film is set. The opening scene shows Venice standing in a room whose décor perfectly matches her 1960s-style dress. Next scene: she arrives outside Sydney airport to meet her Dad – but the taxis waiting outside are contemporary. (It only gradually emerges that Venice is a modern girl in love with the ‘60s.)
Bilbrough makes evocative use of Sydney locations, including some eastern beachside suburbs, but her weakness as a director is to keep throwing to close ups of her lead – a habit that starts to look almost fetishistic.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help thinking of the words of a professional script consultant a few years ago as she confessed to sometimes wondering whether or not life was too pleasant in Australia to make for compelling film drama.
The day before seeing Being Venice I watched another film (Twilight Portrait) with a female protagonist directed and written by women filmmakers, this time from Russia. In the first 15 minutes, cops raped one woman, another woman broke up with her lover, had her bag snatched by thieves and then, when, she went for help from the cops, was herself raped. Now that’s what I call a narrative.
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