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Australia 1993
Directed by
Rolf De Heer
112 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Heminway
3.5 stars

Bad Boy Bubby

Synopsis: Bubby (Nicholas Hope) is a 35yr old man who has spent his entire life locked up in a cockroach-infested flat by his sexually-abusive mother (Claire Bonito). Eventually he escapes his imprisonment to wander the streets where he learns to survive.

Although writer-director Rolf De Heer's bizarre film is notorious as one of the few truly 'cult' movies to come out of Australia in essence it is so Dickensian that it should have been called ‘Low Expectations: The Adventures of Bad Boy Bubby. An Antipodean Odyssey”.  Except of course that it includes incest, patricide and matricide, cerebral palsy, punk rock and a couple of dead cats.

Despite its reputation it is really only the first 20 minute-or-so sequence (which was originally intended to be shown in 4x3 TV format before the rest of the film expanded to anamorphic, in the end however only the size of the set changed) which recalls David Lynch's Eraserhead (1978) which is truly repugnant (and rather ironically is the best part of the film). The film then segues into a more conventional, albeit still off-the-wall, picaresque black comedy/drama as we follow the quasi-autistic Bubby, whose communication skills are limited to recycling phrases he's heard from other people, around the streets of Adelaide as he gets himself into all sorts of trouble, becomes a rock star-cum-performance artist and finds fulfilment in the simple things of life (he ends up living around Melbourne's Spotswood).

With 32 cinematographers the film was shot on a budget of $800,000. Although not all the scenes in the original script were shot, it does tend to drag in places and one may question the relevance of such sequences as the one in which he is left at an art gallery and ends up in jail where he is anally raped to the accompaniment of a Scottish pipe band (the latter being perhaps De Heer's version of aural rape). On the other hand there is a remarkable section of the film that concerns Bubby's involvement with a group of cerebral palsy victims (De Heer went on to make a film Dance Me To My Song (1998) co-written by and starring one of them, Heather Rose, along with Carmel Johnson who here plays the carer, Angel).

The film won 4 AFI Awards including Best Director and Best Actor although lost Best Film to Muriel's Wedding (1994). Similarities with Herzog's The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser  (1974) are regularly made although De Heer claims not to have seen that film. There is nothing intellectually engaging about De Heer's film and stylistically it is uneven, but it does offer, for the most part, the strange fascination of a nightmare, a discomforting experience which one nevertheless can't help but want to follow through to its completion.




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