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Vacant Possession
Australia 1994
Directed by Margot Nash
Running time 95 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Although marked by a tendency to self-consciousness and "miserabilist"dramatics that will not please everyone, Vacant Possession is a well-written story about damaged people that skilfully interweaves their present situation with the back-story of how they got there and sets this within a much broader story – that of the white man’s colonization of Australia. Thus the film’s title is ironic – referring to the memories that an apparently empty house stores and being an allusion to the “terra nullius” attribution by which the English justified their claim to the Australian continent.

Writer/director Nash overcomes the no-doubt relatively small budget on her first feature by effectively structuring her story and helped by the support of an excellent creative team, notably the production design of Michael Phillips and the cinematography of Dion Beebe, delivers an impressive film.

Pamela Rabe plays Tessa, a woman in her late 30s, who after the death of her mother returns to the broken-down family home at Kurnell on the shores of Sydney's Botany Bay. Having fled the family home as a young woman she returns to confront her troubled past and claim her share of the inheritance from her sister (Linden Wilkinson). (There was one point on which I was not clear and that is why if the house was rented out to an Aboriginal family.  were the mother’s personal effects still there, even down to a will in the ice-box?)

Whilst having a good deal in common thematically with Richard Franklin’s Hotel Sorrento which was released the same year, Nash’s film is the more challenging and if at times tending to overplay its hand both dramatically and politically, deserves to be appreciated for its ambition and commitment.




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