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Luiz Fernando Carvalho
Juliana Carneiro da Cunha
Alkinos Tsilimidos' previous film, the little-seen Tom White, is one of my favourite Australian films. When I heard he was doing a story about a couple who are drug addicts, I thought "oh no, not another Candy". I feel this genre has been done to death in recent times, first with Rowan Woods' Little Fish (which I liked) and then Candy (which was somewhat disappointing).
How surprised I was then, to find that this Em 4 Jay is a real gem. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's a real masterpiece as good as or better than Tom White (which I gave five out of five stars to). And the best film I have ever seen that tackles this dark subject.
Tsilimidos is a real auteur he skilfully brings to screen a confronting story about people at the low-end of the food chain. These are unsympathetic and unlikeable people. Yet, somehow, the director manages to infuse within them a sense of humanity. Even if we don't care for them, we want them to straighten themselves out. Neither they nor their lifestyle is ever glorified, and the director makes no judgements. We are left to make our own ultimately this could be seen as an anti-drug film.
The film is well edited with no flat spots and it's emotionally edge of your seat the whole time as these two people's lives spiral further out of control. The film is not easy for some to look at. I imagine some audience members will walk out, as I have seen with films like The Finished People, Factotum and L'infant (The Child). I found it to be a very physical experience, and was emotionally affected for hours afterwards, as I was with The Child. I love films that have that effect.
The cinematography by Toby Oliver, who has worked on all of Tsilimidos' films, is superb, similar to Tom White. It has a real honesty and authenticity rarely seen in Australian cinema (the last time for me would be Tom White). The scenery around Melbourne is so recognisable without being postcard beautiful.
The characters are just terrific with great performances all round. Nick Barkla and Laura Gordon are stunningly believable, and a special mention to a small part for Kat Stewart as Em's sister (and they looked like sisters). Their meeting was the emotional highlight of the film the subtlety used in this sequence was just heart-rending.
I did not recognise any of the main actors, so they brought no emotional baggage or expectations (a downside for both Little Fish and Candy). They really inhabited the characters. The dialogue was excellent. The film completely avoids clichés, again a downside of both aforementioned films.
Though the story is dark, much humour is still to be found in the most subtle, natural and intelligent way. The music of the Black Keys is excellent without ever being intrusive or contrived. I found this film to be as good as anything that is produced anywhere in the world, very much in the style of European social realism. It was right up there alongside my favourite Australian film, The Boys. Flawless.
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