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Set in the Australian wheat-belt in 1968, SEPTEMBER is a character driven film about two 15 year old boys - one black, one white - whose friendship begins to fall apart under the stress of a changing world. The film is about the boys trying to hold their friendship together in spite of the pressures imposed upon them by a turbulent social and political climate. Written by
I've noticed that with Australian movies a good review gets a favorable reaction from the locals, but a critical one brings the knives out. Now, I quite liked this movie, but it's not a great one. It's a very simple story about two 16 year old boys growing up in country WA in the year 1968. One is white, the son of a struggling wheat farmer (on a property ironically called "Alaska") and the other black, whose father works on the property for nothing but food and housing. Their close friendship and their families' relationship are disturbed by the arrival of a girl next door and a government edict requiring farmers to pay their aboriginal employees wages. This turned out to be a disaster in most areas as the aboriginals were just turfed off the properties.
Although the acting is exquisite, the main roles are not characters but archetypes. There is little to make them individuals. The dialogue is very sparse, which is understandable, since they are Aussie country types, but also rather lacking in content. Very little the characters say advances or explains the story. I was reminded of Ivan Sen's "Beneath the Clouds", where the two main characters, black and white, were on the road and not talking much, but they were communicating. Here, no-one seems to listen to anyone else. There is conflict, but not much of a resolution. The inequality of black and white is a dominant theme but there is not much context. Political correctness overwhelms explanation, and there is little room for entertainment.
The film is lovingly shot, though central west NSW near Harden stood in for the WA wheat belt. I wondered what all the wheat was doing near harvest in August, but it seems Australian wheat is planted in the autumn to catch the winter rains and harvested in the spring. I also wondered about those hard-up WA wheat farmers - wheat prices in 1968 were double those of today, in real terms - but heck, this ain't history.
Almost no-one is going to see this movie (I had a free ticket), but that is not going to stop film commissions funding similar ventures. Fortunately the commissions don't have much money. The good thing about this kind of picture is that it does allow new talent to emerge. Though his skills as a scriptwriter might be questioned, Peter Carstairs has done well as a first time director and moves the story along at a good pace. His two 16 year old principals, Xavier Samuel and Clarence John Ryan were stunning. The only name actor in the cast, Sibilla Budd, was embarrassingly bad as a schoolteacher, but I think the script contributed to this. Well, guess I'll now cop abuse from the wombat nationalists, but so be it. No-one erects statues to critics.
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