Recently I wrote a piece about the desires one has when it comes to the books of friends, the responsibilities of reviewing and the murkiness that can creep into public evaluations of a new book. The same applies when the work is painting, sculpture or film. So I’ll not reiterate here, it’s all in the previous post.
My friend Sue Brooks’s new film, Looking for Grace, will be released on 25th January, 2016. I’ve seen it and it’s a beauty. Sue’s résumé is full and glowing; of her previous work I would single out Japanese Story as my favourite. Images, textures and the overall atmosphere of the film remain with me ten years on. I expect I’ll be saying the same about Looking for Grace a decade hence. Both films were shot in rural Western Australia.
The state of mind I bring to films is similar to that I bring to books. I want to be absorbed, immersed, I want to enter the fictional/filmic world. In short, I want my own imagination to be fired. With this in mind, I sit towards the front of the cinema and always on the end of a row – as far from other viewers as possible. As reading books is a solitary creative experience, so, too, is seeing a film. I want to be enthralled.
Of course mostly I’m disappointed. The glitches and failings of the film pull me from my reverie and I end up in my own skin and thoroughly irritated. But from the opening credits of Looking for Grace I was captivated. These credits set the tone of the film for me. The wheat belt of Western Australia is shot from the air. It is gorgeous – strata and patterns in yellows, clays, whites, browns, caramels, huge and painterly vistas. And then the credits come on in white print. A lesser director or one with a looser eye would have used dark lettering. I settle back. This director knows exactly what she’s doing; I’m happy to trust her.
The story is simple, Grace, a sixteen-year-old only child, runs away from home with her best friend Sappho to see their favourite band play a gig. To finance the journey she takes a large amount of money she regards as ‘family money’, earned through her father’s business.
So – Grace goes missing, her parents Dan (Richard Roxburgh) and Denise (Radha Mitchell) along with a post-retirement private investigator (Terry Norris) search for her, they find her, they set off back home.
As Sue Brooks has said: ‘I wanted to make a film like life as I experience it. There is no heroic journey. There isn’t even a hero. If you believe people shape their own destinies, this isn’t a film for you. If you believe that we all have a destiny that is outside our control and we all spend every day trying to belt it into the shape we think it should have, then this might be a film for you.’
One of the great pleasures of this film is its structure. The film moves from one character to the next, showing the story from different points of view. We begin with Grace’s story in which a largely-empty bus is speeding through the vast Australian countryside carrying Grace (Odessa Young) and Sappho (Kenya Pearson); the girls are sharing ear-buds and rocking along in unison to the music. They’re young, they’re carefree, they’ve run away from home, they’re having a great time. The film goes on to portray Denise’s perspective, Dan’s, Norris (the detective) and others. Slowly the story is built up, layered in a multi-dimensional way – as indeed happens in real life. Whilst stunningly visual, this is a film that draws strongly on that most powerful of novelistic devices: character point of view.
All these characters reveal flaws and frailties. Dan, the father, seems out of his depth most of the time, Norris is struggling with the inevitable advance of age, Denise, trying to create and maintain family life is not sure who she can rely on any more, and Grace is that most aggravating of creatures: a sixteen-year-old girl who believes the world exists only to serve her. She is played to perfection by Odessa Young. (Watch for a scene at the end of the film when you know exactly what is playing through Grace’s mind even though she says not a single word.) No heroics here, but plenty of authenticity.
There are comedic sequences in this drama. There was a full house in the preview I attended and the audience responded positively to the humour. While the humour contributes to the variation of pace and tone that a movie requires, for me, such variation is amply provided by the changing character point of view. Also, given my experience of watching a film – just me, the screen and an empty theatre – the laughter from the audience pulled me out of the film, reminding me I was not alone
Elizabeth Drake’s score provides an excellent emotional current to the film, Katie Milwright’s photography is glorious and the camera always where I wanted it to be. This is an Australian film with themes which are universal. It has already been applauded at various festivals around the world and I can see why.
Sue Brooks is a friend of mine, I wanted to like her new film, Looking for Grace. I did.