Writer/director Tony Ayres trawls the details of his own life for this story about a Shanghai nightclub singer (Joan Chen) who struggles to raise her two children after moving to Australia in the seventies.

Beautifully shot and artfully designed, The Home Song Stories features strong performances and the kind of intimacy and honesty that you can only get from an autobiographical film.

Australian filmmaker Tony Ayres’ debut feature Walking On Water was like a cinematic slap to the face – a bold, uncompromising masterwork that dealt with tough subjects like euthanasia, sexuality, family fractures and emotional suffering. Five years later, Ayres has delivered again, but this time with an even more personal and intimate film. Whereas Walking On Water was born from the experiences of screenwriter Roger Monk, Ayres uses his own life as grist for the mill in The Home Song Stories, and creates a wholly different but equally impressive film.

Rose (American actress Joan Chen in her finest performance to date) is a Hong Kong nightclub singer with an eye on the big time and a chance at a better life. She thinks she’s found it in the form of an Australian navy man (Steven Vidler), and follows him home. Australia, however, isn’t quite the land of opportunity that Rose had thought, and she soon bounces from one man to the next, much to the sufferance of her two children (the excellent Joel Lok and Irene Chen), who are struggling to find their way in a new home. Though grabbing brief moments of respite, the family is touched by madness, suicide and racism, and is always just on the edge of imploding.

Beautifully shot and edited, and with a perfect eye for period detail, The Home Song Stories is visually exquisite but rooted in the darkest of emotions, in a manner not entirely dissimilar to Richard Roxburgh’s excellent Romulus, My Father. Though occasionally in danger of tipping into melodramatic darkness, Ayres leavens his film with moments of humour and genuine warmth, which leads to nothing short of an emotional tour de force; the kind that can only come from experience.

Filmink 4/5


1 hour 43 min