Details: In Cinemas 10 September 2009, Australia, English
Synopsis: Based on the critically lauded play Who's Afraid of the Working Class?, Blessed interweaves four stories which follow the poignant and compelling misadventures of six children as they wander the city streets through a day and a night. It’s a film about the depth of love between mothers and their young, and the life force that ultimately connects us all.
Shock tactics and poor choices undermine the film's noble pretense.
Blessed, the new Australian feature from director Ana Kokkinos, begins with an adolescent shock and awe campaign: two schoolgirls, Katrina (Sophie Lowe) and Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras), waiting for the morning train swig liquor and swear; 18-year-old Roo (Eamon Farren) wakes at the aftermath of a party and pilfers a mobile phone; the angry Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson) swears at his mother after she accuses him of stealing her money; teenager Orton (Reef Ireland) and his younger sister Stacey (Eva Lazzaro) rouse themselves under a pier. Stacey has blood stains on her pants because she’s just begun to menstruate.
Trying to prove some kind of spurious authenticity by shocking an audience is not a valid form of realism. It’s typical of the ill-made choices that dominate this film, which render it a hysterical melodrama that manages to be both condescending and vapid. The source material is the 1998 play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? – a collaboration between writers Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Patricia Cornelius – and based on the screen adaptation the answer to the title’s question would have to be the filmmakers.
With its multiple storylines, that follow the various children through the long day’s journey into night before backtracking to the morning to pick up the progress of their previously distant parents, the movie sacrifices character and story for another cheap jolt of the low life. Katrina and Trisha go shoplifting, Daniel investigates a burglary and Roo finds himself before a pornographer’s camera, describing his sexual fantasies and experiences.
“I want to f—k Eminem,” is the scene’s first line, suggesting that this is a period feature. Kokkinos sets the sequence in an artfully grimy abandoned factory, rendering the scene with high art pretensions. She shoots insert shots of the bare walls because she can’t even afford Roo the dignity of a sustained close-up as he details his first sexual act at the age of 13. As with the director’s previous feature, 2006’s The Book of Revelation, sex is expressed as an artistic ritual; the conceptual bars the physical.
The movie never escapes the stage play. The dialogue is often stilted and what suggests a transformation before a live audience is ill-conceived on the screen; two characters arguing before one suddenly exclaims “You never touch me” is a dramatist at work, not two characters that you can imagine a life for. Ludicrous supporting characters, like a demented police officer who lectures the two shoplifters, add to the discombobulated feel, while Cezary Skubiszewski’s wan score – all electronic percussion and diffident melodies – reinforces the notion that you must prepare yourself for the horrors of Melbourne’s western suburbs.
You can understand why the parents muster such an impressive cast. They each have their moment of graceful reverie and an awards show clip worthy monologue, but the results are uncertain. As Rhonda, the nightmarish mother of Orton and Stacey who smokes while pregnant and has ignored various partners who sexually abused her daughter, Frances O’Connor is a caricature. “Got any yourself?” she sneers at Gail (Tasma Walton), her childless new social worker, as Rhonda drenches the brief sentence in strine. O’Connor sounds like she did her research by watching a Kath & Kim DVD.
Like most of the characters you discover little about Rhonda. Blessed sets you up: you’re supposed to be disgusted, and then when Rhonda is punished for her actions you’re expected to feel sympathy. There is one scene, a confrontation between Katrina and her mother, a fading beauty with a gambling addiction, Bianca (Miranda Otto), that suggests their individual story could have made for a far more incisive feature, but ultimately it’s easier, and more noble, to cut from shock to shock.
The children are pawns and the film ultimately decides that they’re just lost sheep, sending them home to literally curl up in their childhood beds, apart from those who must suffer as a way of punishing their parents. It’s the film’s philosophy writ large: strive for effect, not lasting illumination. The production comes with an arthouse veneer, right down to the handheld visual aesthetic, but it’s really an old-fashioned exploitation film.
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