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Jack Flange leaves the big city for a respite in Australia's Hawkesbury River region, where generations of oyster fishermen (and maybe one woman) have made a living, built histories, and piled up grievances. Jack finds a small-town mentality, with pluses and minuses. There's also a recent burglary and lots of missing cash. Jack gets a job oystering; his boss is separated from a woman of invention, Jack's attracted to a chambermaid turned letter carrier, and there are plenty of mine fields for a city boy to step through. Jack also has a sister, who's ill, to worry about. It's a river journey of self discovery. Is he passing through, or has he found home? Written by
Finally, after the Oz film production industry of the past 18 months being all at sea and in the doldrums, comes a trip up the river instead that produces a film akin to a welcome breath of cinematic fresh air. OYSTER FARMER is a visually spectacular and humorously wry drama of intermingling relationships among local eccentrics and family dissent throughout the muddy mangrove oyster lease businesses on the Hawkesbury River on Sydney's northern fringe. It is a great setting for an easily enjoyable tangle of wants yearnings - and some survival - in a closed community gingerly accepting one 24 year old man finding his place in the world. As with many genuinely warm and often quite funny successful Australian films, we are presented with beautiful locations, dry humor, some hilarious sight gags, an undercurrent of mistrust and begrudging affection, and ultimately, common sense to be happy with one's lot. Previously unseen actor Alex O'Lachlan is the handsome main focus (in a Ramon Novarro way) and it is his journey we enjoy, visually and romantically as he meanders through a community of antsy couples and family jousting, hermit men and railway line-riverbank oldies all living in grubby slap-board shanties on stilts. It has a languid pace, a lot like the river itself but all the deep-water undercurrents of this type of drama also are relevant. Produced by master craftsman of Australian cinema Anthony Buckley, his films are often identifiable by their breathtaking location photography and family dramas set around a tough but troubled industry. See 70s box office champions like THE IRISHMAN, or CADDIE, or classic TV epics like POOR MANS ORANGE or HARP IN THE SOUTH or recently, THE POTATO FACTORY. His celebrated 1960s career in editing Michael Powell classics like the recently restored AGE OF CONSENT are a testament to his success in that if you see his name on an Australian film it is of a consistent standard and a uniquely heartfelt theme. New director Anna Reeves who also wrote the OYSTER FARMER script is to be applauded in that her story and inventive direction allows the pace, characters and scene to be completely satisfying experiences for the viewer. OYSTER FARMER is the film that in 2005 has reinvented the independent film industry in Australia and now in its second week of release is proving to be a major success. A character story rather than an action drama, OYSTER FARMER reminds us of Brit pix like LOCAL HERO or quiet bayou dramas of the deep south in the US. Well known acting faces like Kerrie Armstrong (see LANTANA), regular nugget David Field (not unlike England's Robert Carlyle) and veteran Jack Thompson (see BREAKER MORANT or Sunday TOO FAR AWAY) add the acting strength necessary to keep the characters and interaction interesting. Armstrong's on-board first aid to O'Lachlan provides startling personal physical closeups appreciated by the gasping crowd at the session I attended. New big screen actor Diana Glenn is the film's other main focus. She was previously seen briefly in SOMERSAULT and on TV in the angst series SECRET LIFE OF US. The widescreen photography and dreamy locations suit her quite compelling blue eyed beauty as a riverbank muse with an character-bending shoe fetish. The sight gags involving Smokey, her delinquent dog are genuinely hilarious. She is extraordinarily good looking and perfectly cast. The sex scene on a shady jetty with Alex O'Lachlan is a widescreen zinger. Some perplexing editing in the first couple of reels still puzzle me but I have a sneaking suspicion reels 2/3 at Cinema Paris at Fox Studios in Sydney were in the wrong order. Typical of that cinema. Good facility and hopeless presentation.. It is a testament to this well crafted film that even if I did see some of it in the wrong order, it did not mar the overall experience.OYSTER FARMER is a type of quiet humorous Australian drama we make well in this country and is it a relief to see this film lead the way out of the flat box office run of 2004/5. Interestingly it has taken newcomer writer director teaming with a statesman producer to achieve this success. Much like the casting too. Of particular note is Brit old timer Jim Norton whose hilarious turn as Dad almost steals the film. Local critics have welcomed this film and you should too, especially if you are an International audience.
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