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Australia 2013
Directed by
Rhys Graham
103 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Billie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Laura (Lily Sullivan) are teenagers and best friends.  Laura is reflective and poetic and keeps a diary in which she examines her life. Billie is the opposite, hedonistic and self-centered, to the extent that she is sleeping with Laura’s boyfriend, Danny (Toby Wallace). When Billie’s social worker mum takes in Isaac (Alika Matangi) who has been in trouble with the police, the four get caught up on a roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs that only teenagers can experience.  

Writer-director Rhys Graham's debut feature, set in Canberra at the time of the 2003 bushfires that destroyed a large number of home on city’s fringe, both frustrates and impresses.  The frustrating aspect of the film are what strike one initially. Graham opts for a lot of artistic effect that get in the way of grasping the narrative elements. Partly this is visual, due to the hand-held camera and extreme close ups often showing just parts of face, or as in the opening scene, the characters upside down. Partly it is aural, with dialogue whispered or spoken “internally” and a sound-design that tends to mix speech with other ambient sounds or to record it so that if characters are a distance from the camera we similarly hear what is said only vaguely.  The intention of all this is presumably to be impressionistic or naturalistic. The result is that for the first 45 minutes of the film I wasn’t sure if there were three girls or two, two boyfriends or one, one time period or two (later in the film I was also unclear whether Billie ‘fessed up to the police).

Yet at the same time I was held by the intensely inward-looking atmosphere that seems so characteristic of the nation's capital, by Stefan Duscio’s graceful camerawork, by the excellent performances from the entire cast and above all by the relationship between Billie and Laura, and its embodiment by the two young women in the lead roles.  At times I recalled John Duigan’s classic coming-of age story The Year My Voice Broke. Galore has that feel about  it - the poignancy, the regret, the joys, the sorrows – all mixed together and heightened by the Australian summer heat. I have no idea how the encroaching bushfires were integrated into the story but it is convincingly done although the final scene with the rousing guitar chords seems psychologically out-of-keeping with the story’s events.

Rarely does one see such a mixture of admirable and shoot-oneself-in-the-foot qualities. In a way both indicate considerable talent. If Mr Graham can work on the former and lose the latter he will be a director to watch.




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