A few months ago I wrote a post called A day of gritty viewing. Since then I’ve blogged about more gritty Australian films: Disgrace, Beautiful Kate, and Balibo. And these aren’t the only gritty films to have been produced in Australia this year. The latest to hit the cinemas, though, is Blessed (directed by Ana Kokkinos). This is one hard-hitting film.
It is an adaptation (by several writers including Christos Tsiolkas) of a quite differently titled play – Who’s afraid of the working class? – and is told in two parts. The first part follows the lives of 7 children, most of whom roam the streets under little or no parental control; and the second part explores their mothers, all of whom are battlers in one way or another. No back stories are provided for them but they’re not needed. Theirs are pretty archetypical stories so you get the picture:
- the single mother addicted to gambling (Miranda Otto);
- the serial monogamist mother who needs a man no matter how much damage he does to the children (Frances O’Connor);
- the working mother with a weak husband who leaves it to her to keep it all together (Deborra-Lee Furness);
- the single piece-worker (and also religious) mother struggling to make a good life for her children (Victoria Haralabidou); and
- the now-elderly mother who adopted an Aboriginal child and kept him apart from his mother (Monica Maughan).
It’s a wonderful ensemble cast – and there are more, including Sophie Lowe who also starred in Beautiful Kate. Through interweaving stories that never feel forced, the film explores the love between mothers and children and how too often this is strained by those external circumstances (most often poverty and the struggle to survive) that can get in the way of the ability to express “true” feeling. Some of the children have been damaged by experiences they shouldn’t have experienced (and I’m talking about abuse here of course) … which brings me back to the title and the double whammy contained in its combination of truth and irony.
It’s nicely shot by Geoff Burton. The night scenes, the strong contrasts, the minimal use of colour evoke well the challenges confronted by the characters in the mostly less-than-pretty parts of their city. Kokkinos‘ direction is also sure, starting with the moving opening scenes of sleeping children which somehow manage to convey their innocence while also suggesting something darker lying beneath. If there’s a criticism to be made it could be that the film is just a little too politically correct. Not having seen the play I don’t know how closely it follows the original but there is a sense here of trying to get in all of society’s contemporary ills. That said, with strong stories and a cast that never goes near stepping over the bounds into melodrama, it works and you accept it.
I don’t always feel the need to avoid spoilers in a review – but I will here. I will simply say that it is gritty – but there is hope too, not in the sense of long-term answers but in a recognition that by reconnecting with the love that binds, you can keep going.