Love Lust & Lies is the fifth documentary in a series Gillian Armstrong has been making about the lives, hopes and dreams of three lively, working class Adelaide girls since they were fourteen in 1976. Over more than thirty years, Kerry, Josie and Diana’s struggles have captured all our hearts. Now 47, the women’s stories explore universal truths about families, love, loss, hopes and dreams.

Previous entries in the series are Smoke and Lollies (1976), Fourteen's Good, Eighteen's Better (1980), Bingo, Bridesmaids and Braces (1988) and Not Fourteen Again (1996).

Armstrong calls on old friends.

If you haven’t seen the previous four documentaries in this engaging but intermittent series – 1976’s Smokes and Lollies, 1980’s Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better, 1988’s Bingo’s Bridesmaids & Braces and 1996’s Not Fourteen Again – you don’t have to skip the latest installment. Filmmaker Gillian Armstrong and editor Nicholas Beauman do a first-rate job of encapsulating the expansive back stories in the first 20 minutes, beginning with the black and white verite of Adelaide in the mid 1970s and a trio of young girls who are going to grow up, physically and sometimes emotionally, before your eyes.

It’s not clear what Armstrong was doing in 2003, when she should have been due to take up the narrative strands (extended post-mortem for the misfire that was Charlotte Gray?), but Love, Lust & Lies – the title is the only thing approaching the generic about it – picks up a massive 14 years after the last edition. That’s quite the gap, admitted to early on when Armstrong asks one of her subjects, Josie Petersen, to identify the people living with her. Josie, someone who just gets on with life, has a new husband (her third) and a second posse of teenagers to corral.

The oft-made comparison to Armstrong’s works are Michael Apted’s 7Up series, a scholarly sequence that aimed to address the changing (or perhaps unyielding) face of England through a cross-section of 7-year-olds studied with precise detail. Apted cast his net wide, but Armstrong went narrow. Her three initial subjects – Josie, Kerrie Carlson and Diana Doman – were all friends, all working-class, all from Adelaide. Armstrong started tight and waited to see what would splinter outwards.

Thirty-four years have passed. The idea of a young woman becoming a hairdresser is no longer 'a fantasy" – opportunities abound, although a recurring element is that each of the three subjects regret not finishing high school (several were married and/or pregnant before their graduation dates). Each woman worries in her own way over her children, and, increasingly, her grand-children, in homes that are consumer palaces compared to their teenage domiciles.

Armstrong is not inquisitorial. She casually reveals developments that matter, even if they refute events from a previous documentary. Diana, for example, now lives with the real father of her son, Beauh, and not her husband, who calmly raised him despite the boy’s excesses. Perhaps Armstrong is aware that she could never get away with such stories in a fictional setting, so she doesn’t try to shape the revelations beyond the sly admissions and kitchen-table discussions that eventuate.

The atmosphere between the director and her subjects is collegial; near the film’s close they drink champagne together on an Adelaide beach to mark the end of shooting. So Armstrong doesn’t dig, even when it comes out that Diana has a problem with poker machines, while there’s some confusion over a falling out between Josie and her daughter Rebecca over the identity of Rebecca’s father. But where she succeeds is balancing out the pathos and the everyday events that mark their lives. It allows her to subtly contrast Kerrie, who has had the most settled adult existence, with the other two, who in differing ways have tried to find what suits them.

The shooting style is virtually deliberately bereft of style, but the nourishment comes from the ever growing band of participants. Don’t be fooled by the offhand demeanour. Hopefully Armstrong will get back to Adelaide before another 14 years pass.

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1 hour 27 min
In Cinemas 13 May 2010,