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Australia 2009
Directed by
Ana Kokkinos
113 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4.5 stars


Synopsis: Seven children of differing ages are out on the streets of Melbourne’s disaffected western suburbs over the course of one day and one night. We see the time period from their point of view as variously they become involved in a number of misadventures. Then we experience the same day over again, but this time from the viewpoint of their mothers.

Be warned: the title of this film is ironic – there are few blessings to be had in this gut-wrenching story of motherly responsibility gone awry and offspring at serious risk. The seven “children” are: Katrina (Sophie Lowe), teenage daughter of Bianca (Miranda Otto), a gambling addict who only comes alive when she emerges from bed to hit the casino. Katrina’s friend Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) is the daughter of Gina (Victoria Haralabidou), a hard working seamstress. These two fall foul of the cops by shoplifting. Roo (Eamon Farren) is Trisha’s brother, the favoured of the two siblings, but when he runs from his mother’s overly-protective love he finds himself caught up in the exploitative porn industry. Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson) is the son of Tanya (Deborah Lee Furness) and Peter (William McInnes), the only husband in the film. When his mother unjustly accuses him of theft, Daniel decides to stage a real theft, with unexpected outcomes. Orton (Reef Ireland) and Stacey (Eva Lazzaro) are the kids of heavily pregnant Rhonda (Frances O’Connor), who is under the wing of the Department of Human Services as she is completely off the rails (though from what we never know). The siblings seek shelter in a clothing bin. Lastly James (Wayne Blair), now a young man, is the adopted Aboriginal son of Laurel (Monica Maughan) who has never gotten over the loss of his real mother.

There is no let-up from the searing pain and heartache of this film. Kokkinos never flinches from the hard issues and elicits extraordinary performances from her cast of both unknowns and well-known Australian actors. The film is based upon the play Who’s Afraid Of The Working Class?, which also had a stellar line-up of writers, among them Andrew Bovell, writer of Lantana, and Christos Tsolkias,award-winning author of The Slap.

The two-part framework of the film is intriguing – we tend to have preconceptions and make judgments of the children (and their as yet barely-seen mothers) in the first part and yet when we see the mothers, despite their failings, we feel a deep compassion for all these lost souls. Even the irresponsible mothers have an abiding love for their children, and it is Rhonda, the most dysfunctional of all, who refers to her kids as her “blessings”.

Despite the dark and disturbing nature of the film, there is a beauty and poetry to be found, stemming largely from the intensely truthful emotions portrayed up on the screen, and from the awareness that these mothers love their kids regardless. The acting is wonderful across the board, with especial acknowledgment of O’Connor’s extraordinary performance as Rhonda.

The look of the film is as dark as its subject matter, deliberately, and the naturalistic lighting aptly reflects the gloom of this demographic. There are rare brighter moments along with many wonderful close-up shots of the characters’ faces, again reflecting their pain and their inner beauty. The whole is supported by a haunting score from prolific composer, Cezary Skubiszewski.

Blessed is cinema at its most gruelling, but also at its most powerful.




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