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We don?t see many films made in Australia about our underclass, our dispossessed, our homeless, our disenfranchised. Yet Melbourne filmmaker Alkinos Tsilimidos has made a career out of it. His graduate short documentary from film school (when VCA was called Swinburne) was a blinder called Man of Straw (1988), about a compulsive gambler with seriously rotten luck. His first feature was the Genet-inspired Everynight Everynight (1994), an adaptation of Ray Mooney?s play set inside Pentridge Gaol?s notorious H-Division, featuring great Australian actor David Field in the lead role as a prisoner who endures a living hell. They again collaborated on Tsilimidos? next feature Silent Partner (2001) based on another play, this time by Daniel Keene. Taking us straight into the world of boarding houses and ?dishlickers?, Field and Syd Brisbane (One Perfect Day) are a couple of lovable losers ?wedded? to each other through gambling, grog, petty crime and unrealised dreams.To date Tsilimidos? films have been modestly produced, performance-based pieces, notable for their creative collaborations, uncompromising voice and commitment to craft. Which brings us now to Tom White, his most accomplished, confident and compassionate film to date. After a lengthy absence from our big screens ? at least in a role that befits his talent - Colin Friels sheds all traces of actor?s vanity and ego to ?become? the titular character. He acts his heart out as Tom, a man who slips between the cracks. Things aren?t right for Tom; his reality and his perception start to terrify him and the walls close in. One day he goes AWOL from his life. Tom leaves everything behind ? his wife (played by Rachel Blake), their two small children, their house, his career, his ?respectability?? No explanations, no nothing. And so Tom White becomes a man with no name.What a terrific starting point for a film, one rich with personal drama and ripe with adventure, which we are allowed to witness. Tom jumps headlong into an abyss that dwells beneath the surface of our culture. He encounters several possible versions of himself along the way: Matt, a 20-something party boy who first takes him in (Dan Speilman), Malcolm, an old homeless man who also gives him shelter (Bill Hunter) and Jet, a young kid about to step off into the same fraught existence as Tom if he?s not careful (Jarryd Jinks). He is also drawn to another lost soul, Christine, The Year My Voice Broke?s Leone Carmen who almost steals the show as a fractured carnie worker who thrives in her existential chaos. Their affair is passionate yet born from desperation, and makes for one of the most moving and emotionally honest elements of the story. Tom needs to learn about himself and so is drawn to those who make him see the perversity and poetry which exist side-by-side in a life where survival motivates every waking moment.No matter how small or large their part in Tom White, each actor enacts their role with great humour and grace. But especially it feels like Friels surrenders all of himself to this tough role in order to get it right. Tom White is not a perfect film ? it has problems in its third act as did Silent Partner ? but that said, I spent most of Tom White in a state of exhilaration.Giving us a glimpse of an unseen world is part of why we turn to cinema. Making unremarkable stories remarkable is an achievement worth bottling in any medium, let alone film. That this was achieved with such intimacy and compassion in Tom White is a testament to the tenacity and talent of Alkinos Tsilimidos who is shaping up to be one of our most consistenly solid and important Australian filmmakers. And we could do with a few more films like this in our Australian movie landscape.

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1 hour 46 min

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