Running Away Up North Down Under
by Christine Cremen
If there was a single recurring motif in a number of the
more noteworthy films screened at Brisbane this year it was characters
A young writer from Tokyo, respectable and well-educated,
takes on tedious piecework making up trays of yakitori in the slums of
Osaka (`Akame 48 Waterfalls', Japan).
A newly-married couple and their male friend, whose secret
love triangle is in danger of discovery, leave their remote village and
try to survive together in the city (`Darkness Bride', Hong Kong).
A young woman who is a boozer, a bulimic and who totally
lacks a sense of self-worth picks up a truck driver on a whim in the parking
lot of her local convenience store and goes on the road with him (`Vibrator',
Japan). (`Vibrator', which had our jury's unanimous vote for Best Picture,
was awarded the prize for its tender approach to sexuality, something
seldom seen in cinema.)
Then there's `Tom White' (Australia). Colin Friels has the
title role of a white collar worker who, ordered to take stress leave,
suddenly abandons his wife, his children and his profession, and ends
up living on the streets.
Significantly, amongst all those we see taking flight in
these features, Friels is the only middle-aged character. Refreshingly
his descent from middle class respectability to the lower depths is presented
neither as a tragic decline nor as a spiritual journey towards self-knowledge.
At the end of the movie he's not back to where he was when it started
- a lot has happened and he has found for himself a sort of surrogate
family amongst the marginalised members of society he temporarily teams
up with - but there's nothing here hurrying him towards a neat conclusion,
either happy or tragic.
This is Colin Friels' picture: he's in practically every
scene and almost is frighteningly absorbed in his role. (Unfortunately,
FIPRESCI has no provision for an acting award. If we had, we would have
given it to Friels.) But there are pleasures to be had also from the performances
of, amongst others, Loene Carmen (best known for `The Year My Voice Broke')
and the ubiquitous Bill Hunter, stalwart of the Australian cinema, as
inescapable in Australian movies as Gerard Depardieu is in French movies.
In passing it should be noted that among the brave elements
in Friels' performance is a brief scene of full-frontal nudity.