Most Australians have direct experience of being parents of young children or have been exposed to it through family and friends. Yet the stress and banality, frustration and joy felt at that time in the cycle of life is hardly ever depicted in feature films made in this country.
My Year Without Sex, which screens on SBS ONE at 9.30pm this Saturday, stands out not just because acutely observed contemporary family life is central to the film – stock-standard middle-class Australian suburban family life – but also because the behaviour of the characters, including their self-deprecating humour, is so powerfully, authentically, recognisably Australian.
The film understands that silliness and seriousness usually live side by side in a domestic setting and that misunderstanding is one of the norms of life.
When Ross (Matt Day) sees that his son Louis is upset, he thinks it's because the 12-year-old is worried sick about his mother. After all, they are both sitting beside Natalie (Sacha Horler) as she lies asleep in her hospital bed. When he realises that, in fact, it is because Louis's football team has just lost an important match, the look on his face is priceless.
Natalie is in hospital because she has suffered an aneurysm – luckily while in her doctor's surgery – and, naturally, it has rippled through the family like an earth tremor. Her two children don't quite understand that they could have lost their mother, kids being kids, but Ross and Natalie are acutely aware of the enormity of what's happened. Nevertheless, it is not writer/director Sarah Watt's style to over-dramatise this anxiety; rather it is treated realistically, and with much dry humour. The film's title is an example: it references their concerns about making love because the doctor has told them that an orgasm could trigger another episode.
[ Read: review of My Year Without Sex ]
In 2005, when Watt began writing My Year Without Sex, she was interested in exploring the anxiety that so many people around her seemed to be expressing.
“Around that time there was a fair amount of job insecurity in Australia with Work Choices, global uncertainty and instability, talk about climate change, the Asian tsunami,” she said when the film was released into cinemas. Amplifying this through the aneurysm incident was inspired.
[ Watch: Sarah Watt discusses My Year Without Sex ]
But the great joy of this film is feeling like you are sitting at a kitchen table with a young family. When Natalie (Sacha Horler) tells her young daughter Ruby (Portia Bradley), “You can't wear that you'll freeze,” it's not really the reason she wants her to get changed. Rather the way the seven-year-old is showing her belly is an echo of the sexualisation of life that Natalie sees every day in the media and advertising industries. It's one of many, many beautiful parent-child moments in this film.