Luke Davies, poet, novelist and screenwriter, adapted his semi-autobiographical novel Candy for the screen in 2006. Since that time he has written screenplays for film and television in both the US and Australia. His feature films include Life, Beautiful Boy, Angel of Mine and Lion, which went on to win BAFTA and AACTA awards, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Luke is also the creator of TV series Catch-22 and is currently working on The Most Dangerous Man in America.
Tell us a little about your film at SBS On Demand.
Candy was a long gestation. First I lived my troubled twenties, then adapted that experience into my book Candy – a typical first novel, thinly veiled and semi-autobiographical. When Margaret Fink enquired about optioning the film rights, I used the moment of leverage to ask that I have a stab at the screenplay. Then director Neil Armfield and I chipped away at the screenplay for four or five more years. Life went on, we were doing other things, and it looked like our little indie Aussie druggie film would never get up and running. When Heath Ledger read the script and said, “I’m interested in this,” everything changed rapidly. I’m very proud of Candy, proud of Neil’s vision. The film holds up terrifically 14 years later.
Emile Sherman produced Candy with Margaret Fink (Margaret was involved from 1998, and Emile came on board around 2003), and Lion came into my life because of my Emile connection. We’d stayed in touch and I’d written the film Life for Emile’s See-Saw Films. One day he said, “Have you heard this story about the Indian boy who became lost, and found his home village and mother 25 years later?” I had just read about it that week! I quickly read Saroo Brierley’s memoir (A Long Way Home) and very enthusiastically pitched for the job. To me the story was like one of the primal myths or fables, from the earliest dawn of story-telling: Reunification with the Lost Mother. On the other hand it was so utterly modern, since it could never have happened in all the tens of thousands of years before someone invented Google Earth. I love how this blend of ancient and modern in Lion is at one and the same time both heartbreaking and uplifting.
Watch Candy now at SBS On Demand. Hurry! Candy leaves SBS On Demand on 14 July.
What are you currently working on?
Some poetry. Film and TV-wise I’m juggling a few things that are at different stages, including a 7-episode limited series, The Most Dangerous Man in America, about when Timothy Leary escaped from prison and was on the run from 1970–73 (Woody Harrelson to play Leary); and an adaptation of Colum McCann’s Apeirogon for Steven Spielberg.
How are you coping with self-isolation?
Social distancing was not a huge stretch for me. I didn’t really have to learn jarring new behaviours; I just sank a little more deeply into some quieter rhythms. I missed some of the one-to-one interacting with friends. On the other hand I felt grateful for the general decrease in white noise. I got to daydream a little more than usual.
What are your 5 favourite films at SBS On Demand?
It was hard, of course, narrowing this to five. But rather than list more obvious favourites like Withnail and I and Election (which I feel a higher percentage of SBS On Demand viewers will be familiar with), I decided to look for some that might fly a little more under the radar. But that I love no less!
1. Capernaum / Capharnaüm
Director: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw
When it came out, I kept finding reasons not to watch this, assuming it would be too dark and that I’d never be in the right mood. Then enough friends whose opinions I trusted got very insistent. So now I’m insisting! I was gripped and amazed. It’s a complex and finely wrought story about the impulse to survive against enormous odds – and to protect the young and the weak. Syrian newcomer Zain al Rafeea was 12 years old when the film was shot, and really had been a refugee in Lebanese camps for eight years. He is a gifted natural. His compelling portrayal of rage, compassion and determination is astonishing.
Watch Capernaum now at SBS On Demand.
2. Let The Right One In
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
A beautiful, near-perfect film about outsiderness. It’s as if director Tomas Alfredson has mashed the teen awakening film with the vampire film – and managed to discard all that is annoying and painful about those genres. The movie achieves the feat of seeming simultaneously serene and haunted, austere and kitschy. Oskar, a bullied teen boy, becomes friends with Eli, a guarded, melancholy young girl. “Are you old?” asks Oskar. “I’m twelve,” says Eli. “But I’ve been twelve for a long time.”
Watch Let The Right One In now at SBS On Demand.
3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Director: Julian Schnabel
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner
Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of French Elle, suffered a catastrophic stroke which led to a rare condition known as “locked-in syndrome”. His left eyelid was the only part of his body that worked, though his brain was functioning completely normally. Bauby devised a way of communicating by blinking his eye; painstakingly slowly, he composed the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was published ten days before he died. Julian Schnabel’s profoundly moving film, a light-saturated dreamscape, an ode to the power of imagination and memory, does justice to Bauby’s remarkable book.
Bauby is pressed into a tiny, immobile place between the entirety of his past life and the great unknown before him. For any of us, that’s the present moment; Schnabel here investigates an extreme version of it. “My head weighs a ton,” says Bauby in voice-over. “My whole body is encased in a kind of diving suit. My task is now to write the motionless travel notes from a castaway on the shores of loneliness.”
Watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly now at SBS On Demand.
4. Brief Encounter
Director: David Lean
Cast: Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Celia Johnson
It’s never the wrong time to see a David Lean film. Brief Encounter is so wonderfully of its time: no film maker today would build a film around two decent people who almost have an affair. That about summarises the story. Yet the tension beautifully ratchets, and the movie feels as taut as any thriller. In another sense it was radical for its time: for all its chasteness, the film’s elemental spareness means that sexual desire is flowing, implicitly, at peak velocity through every scene. Lean extracts this magic beautifully from Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. The film was made in 1945. The war is almost absent from its narrative. But you feel that sense of imminent release in its bones. The crisp screenplay is by Noel Coward. A few years ago I had the good fortune to watch a screening of the film (introduced by Celia Johnson’s daughter) at London’s Royal Festival Hall, with live score by the Royal Philharmonic.
Watch Brief Encounter now at SBS On Demand.
5. The Death of Stalin
Director: Armando Iannucci
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs
This is one of my favourite films of the last few years. It seems criminally underappreciated to me. Armando Iannucci (creator of Veep) manages to blend deep hilarity and deep darkness in this propulsive political satire about events surrounding the demise of one of the 20th century’s true monsters. It’s a vertiginous film that feels manic, but never schizophrenic. It’s a verbal, linguistic feast, but it’s strangely ebullient in its comedy, somehow managing to be not as acidic as, say, Iannucci’s The Thick of It. By the end, it’s the blackest comedy imaginable.
Watch The Death of Stalin now at SBS On Demand.
Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown, a film that embraces melodrama without ever becoming schmaltz, will leave you in a puddle – and has some exquisite musical sequences to boot.
Gomorrah is a brilliant and disturbing journey into the corrosive dysfunction of Italian crime.
And finally, two lovely films about youngsters: The Bad News Bears, a warm, ambling ’70s classic.
And Taika Waititi’s wonderful Boy.