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This is a deceptively simple story of two young people, both on the run,
meeting up on a rural New South Wales road. Both are aboriginal and both
are, for family reasons, headed for Sydney. Nothing particularly dramatic
happens but there is enough incident to keep the viewer watching, and
perhaps see life as it is for alienated young blacks in contemporary
The director, Ivan Sen, has a strong visual sense, and he captures the land with breathtaking vistas (he also wrote much of the music). It is not the outback, it is the central west New South Wales of big commercial farming cotton, sunflowers and corn, yet even the big farms are dwarfed by their surroundings. The young couple proceeds through this magnificent landscape beneath the clouds of the title preoccupied by their own problems, though the boy (Damien Pitt) is angrily aware that this is the land taken from his forbears. She (Danielle Hall) on the other hand rejects her Aboriginal background and focuses on her Irish father and the green misty land he came from.
The dialogue is pretty sparse and the delivery often a little wooden but the two leads express the emotions required more than adequately. Their relationship could not be further from a conventional teen romance, rather they are two emotionally stunted people who come to realise they can still care for someone else.
As for the rest, there are the inevitable black brothers in clapped out HQ Holdens, a just cruisin' but still hassled by the police, and plenty of hostile or merely patronising whites. One old white man (Arthur Dignam) does give them a lift but most whites give our couple a wide berth. I thought the story required a little more development; the film describes a situation rather than tells a story, but it does so with great simplicity and honesty. It's a cliché I know, but I await Ivan Sen's next work with great interest he's a considerable talent.
Ivan Sen was a guest of the Dendy art-house cinema group at the advance
screening I attended. He spoke about the script writing process, casting
funding hurdles at length.
The previous 6 years of Ivan's career have been devoted to producing short films; all of which have thematically built towards the story in 'Beneath Clouds'.
Taking its title from the Pearl Jam song 'Black', the film shows two young people (Lena and Vaughn) who escape from restrictive situations to rendevous with a remote parent in a search for love and validation ... only it is not clear if that love will be returned.
Sen wrote the script from his own experiences growing up in Alice Springs with an Aboriginal mother and an absent European father (like Lena) and his full-blooded cousins constantly in and out of juvenile courts and detention centres (like Vaughn and Lena's brother). He said that at first writing a feature-length script was difficult given his past film efforts ran to a maximum of 30 minutes. However, the interim draft boasted 140 pages. During and between script-writing he listened to lots of music (not only Pearl Jam!) and wrote some musical phrases and themes that become the film sound-track in the hands of Alistair Spence. The final script was 90 pages, and, by neat coincidence, the running time of the film is exactly 90 minutes!
Vaughn was cast by approaching a young man on the streets of Moree. Damian Pitt was initially incredulous at being asked to play a lead role in a feature film, but was quick to come around. The approach of casting Lena, explained Sen, was more conventional. Although he tried to recruit a female lead in the same way as Damian was found, the process of driving by, pulling up slowly, rolling down the window and asking 'do you want to be in a movie?' was fraught with too many sleazy connotations to be taken seriously by the young women he approached! Through a friend, Sen viewed an audition tape featuring Danielle Hall, and though initially ambivalent, the director was awestruck after meeting her in her hometown of Wee Waa and immediately sensed her ability to identify with the character and project the lines of the script as if they were her own. Obviously, judges at the Berlin festival were equally moved. The remainder of the cast were largely amateur, recruited around Moree.
Funding for the film was conditional on it being a feature, to enable it to travel the worldwide festival circuit as a stand-alone picture. Chief funding bodies were the NSW Film Commission and the Pacific Film & TV Commission - the former association ensured all location filming was in NSW. Roads and scenery around Moree, Gunnedah, Blacktown and Sydney show a great dynamic range of terrain and geography. From the time of the green-light of funding to shooting took only 4 months; the shoot went for 6 weeks; and post-production/editing took 6 months; all at a cost of 2-and-a-half million Australian dollars (roughly one-and-a-quarter mill. US dollars). Not cheap by Oz standards but not expensive either in an international sense.
My impression of the film is of a modern classic, up there with Gallipolli, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. It was well-deserving of the attention of the Berlin jury, and Ivan the auteur and musician has a great future ahead of him. His next project will be a black comedy set in Mexico about people who visit a small town hoping to be abducted by aliens.
Mr Sen, best of luck, and please don't get all indulgent like Russell Crowe or Billy Bob Thornton by fronting a lame rock band! Keep it real.
I have little to add to the excellent reviews above. Tarkovsky? Tykwer?
wonder I loved it. I shall go away and have a good think about those
My contribution is a bit of information about Australian aboriginals that may help non-Australians appreciate this exquisite movie.
1. It is normal for Australian aboriginals to take a while to speak to each other (or anyone) if they are strangers. When thinking about this I compared the film to Eric Rohmer and to Iranian films about young people. Iranians and Rohmer characters chatter endlessly about trivia but the powerful effect of the movie creeps up on you in the same way.
2. It is easy to miss the moment in which Vaughan discovers that Lena is Aboriginal. This is an important turning point in the film. To avoid spoiling I'll only give you a tip. An older person is involved and there is no discussion. If you watch for it you will see it.
This is a small film but the cinematography is beautiful. The performances of the two main actors is also wonderful and it quite deserves the awards it won. This film tells no big stories of the interaction between the white and aboriginal communities (although it shows the inherent racism of the mainly white police force). What this film does leave me with is a sense of two real, marginalised, teenagers trying to make sense of their place in the world and willing to undertake what journeys are necessary to find those places.
a story of a young half-caste aboriginal girl in australia who is on a journey from her broken home in the country to sydney where her father, an irishman, lives. On her journey she meets a young boy who is on his way home aswell, after escaping a youth detention camp in the outback. The theme of conflict between Australian aboriginals and whites is presented in the journey. The boy is heading towards a future of problems and she is on her way to hope. I saw this movie at the Australian international film festival in sydney and had a chance to talk with the director after. It was two years ago but when i sit down to start a new script i am always reminded of this films subtle beauty and perfect structure. an amazing piece of art, i highly recommend it
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A movie so well conceived and executed that, like a Tarkovsky film (I'm not kidding), the story acts merely as a quiet vehicle for more important and more powerful things - barely expressed but wrenchingly felt emotions, the inescapable clutch of landscape and fleeting moments of profound beauty and joy within a life of violence, humiliation and despair.
Beneath Clouds reminds me very much of an SBS TV doco also directed by Ivan Sen called Shifting Shelter, in which a small number of Aboriginal Australian youths are interviewed twice across a period of a year or two. That too was quiet but affecting, and seemed to point to the inevitability in life among the least affluent of the Aboriginal communities across rural Australia.
Who knows? Maybe it's Sen's own background that allows potential road movie and Aborigine cliches to come off fresh and convincing. Supporting actors with the smallest parts to play come off convincingly as separate characters rather than fodder for the narrative, something that few directors seem to value - Martin Brest being an exception. I suspect too that there's a whole bunch of stuff that only Aboriginal viewers will recognise.
Scenes to treasure - (1) the mute, elderly Aboriginal woman in the back of the car who is the *only* character in the film to correctly identify the heroine as Aboriginal (in her only line of dialogue), who shudders at the sight of the killing mountain, and who, apparently out of sheer experience, neither moves nor speaks as her relations are assaulted by police.
(2) Arthur Dignam, that wonderful actor, in an austere cameo as the one white person (rural gentry? urban middle class retiree?) who lends a hand to the fleeing couple, no questions asked.
(3) Having established a bond, the two leads, each and alone, looking into the eyes of animals they encounter, distracting them just long enough from their predicament to sense something beyond what imprisons them. When they first start their trek the animals they see instead are roadkill.
The casting is outstanding; the last movie like this to use amateurs so effectively was probably Pixote.
Beneath Clouds doesn't have the sexy tagline or superhuman behaviour of a film like Rabbit Proof Fence. It offers only the smallest glimmer of hope in the face of overwhelming circumstances. But it makes total sense and punches deep inside. If Ivan Sen can make a better feature film than this then Australia can only rejoice.
There are very few movies that I will want to watch more than once, but
Beneath Clouds is definitely one of them.
The majority of movies I have seen over the past years were very much focused on plot development and I think most viewers will expect a movie to be heavy on the storyline.
What I expect from a movie is something totally different, though. None of my favourite movies have a a memorable or particularly well developed storyline. However, they all have something in common. All of them have a very powerful and gripping atmosphere, and it is this atmosphere that comes to my mind whenever I think back of these movies. Not a particular scene, a particular quote or a masterly twist in the storyline, not the visual effects or the sophisticated sound.
This movie would be just as enjoyable watching it from a low quality videotape on a black and white telly with low sound quality.
Beneath Clouds instantly became a favourite with me, from the very first moments I started watching it. I love this movie, simply because it gives you an experience, a combination of vision, sound, thought and emotion that cannot be described with words and that is exactly what I expect from a movie.
If you think what I am saying here is b.ll.cks and doesn't make sense - well, it's up to you. But if you know what I am blathering about you will understand and LOVE this movie. Wochit.
With the concept of what Australian is being challenged and revised in contemporary Australian society, this film hits home hard. A challenge for a connection with the great geography of the Australian landscape and an identity crisis. It reinforces the Aboriginal context of Australian history and the effects of what modern Aboriginality deals with. Fabulous movie! Emotive, raw and definitely Australian! 'Beneath Clouds' also captures the spirit of Australian youth and the mateship that had underpinned almost every friendship of every Australian. The Australian spirituality of inextricable connection to the land is also emphasised through the scenery filmed. A personal journey is also presented: beautiful, intimate and detailed. Though the characters share dissimilarity, it is the force that brings them together and reinforces the Australian notion of mateship, identity and spirituality.
No doubt about it, Ivan Sen is the most talented film-maker working today in Australia. Others gain passing publicity, but Sen already has a notable body of work . Everybody, demand to see Sen's short film WIND in 35mm. This man has pure cinema senses -- pictorial, musical, content-wise and with actors. There is hardly a word spoken that matters, it is all in the aching faces, the hesitant gestures and the bleak settings of the country road. In politics and personnel administration, BENEATH CLOUDS would speak with humanity that cannot be denied, far more powerfully than any speeches, procedures or texts. Evidently not released to video overseas, no picture in IMDb's box - pity that basic business follow-up has not occurred for this fine film.
I was fascinated by the atmosphere of this film. The lots of
close-ups together with the attracting photography and the
sensitive performance of the two young people make this a
breathtaking film. The easy-going rhythm of the film feels never as too slow but is
inherent to the character of the aboriginals. The soundtrack also gives this film an extra dimension and is very
enjoyable. Together with "rabbit-proof fence" and "picnic at hanging rock" one
of the Australian films which impressed me most.
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