Told in real time and shot as a single take, BOXING DAY documents the minute by minute events across the course of an afternoon in the life of Chris Sykes - a recovering alcoholic and estranged father. Living alone on home detention, Chris is preparing Christmas lunch for his family when an old friend turns up at his doorstep and reveals a disturbing truth. When his daughter, his wife and her new boyfriend finally arrive, the situation slowly and inevitability escalates and we are drawn into the compelling story of a desperate father who finally exposes the dark and disturbing secret that has torn his family apart. Written by
Boxing Day achieves what a lot of Australian films try to do but fail
I saw this film recently at the Mercury Cinema in Adelaide, Australia. This is Kriv Stenders' second directional effort of a feature film. Boxing Day is a real time documentary style approach to telling a fictional story. The casting is a big part of what makes and breaks a film like this and the choice of actors shows some wisdom. The lead actor Richard Green was also a collaborator with Kriv in writing the story and it because of this that film has authenticity. There is a ring of truth in the performances, which I appreciated. This kind of Australian urban drama is done from time to time but not always as convincingly. Often Films similar to this make the mistake of casting people we know or big actors taking away from the realistic everyday style the picture is trying to accomplish.
The scenario is a small family gathering at Boxing Day. This day or the holiday season is often awkward for families who may only see each other around this time of the year. Chris (Played by Richard Green) is a reformed criminal and he is hosting the get together. The film is shot on location in Elizabeth in South Australia.
The shooting is rougher than most verite style films and the format is HD video not film (DVCPro HD). This look is the closest to documentary I have seen in a fictional feature since Lars Von Trier's "The Idiots" (1998) and does pull you into the film quite effectively. Stenders shot the film himself hand-held. The colours are quite blue or cold and there is no artificial lighting. This low budget situation has bean handled very well by the director and embraced totally to achieve an authentic experience. The acting is brilliant. All the performances feel like people I know. Casting not very well known actors was a great decision even if it was budgetary because they don't come with a persona from other films and this makes it feel like discovering new people.
The only things that I am critical about in this film are when it may be conventional in places. I think making a film like this is always a battle between pure reality and the conventions of cinema. Kriv Stenders balances quite well in this challenge to be both realistic and create an interesting story. Luckily the film is not very predictable in the journey it takes. I want to stress also Richard Green who is a knock out actor and collaborator because when I look at Kriv Stender's first much more expensive film, "The Illustrated Family Doctor" (2005) I feel he has achieved so much more with Boxing Day and with substantially less funding. I hope this is a direction that is further pursued and even further refined for the talented director and actor respectively. I would suggest even less story if anything and that was my main criticism of being conventional.
My understanding of Australian films is they rarely make any money. Apparently this did not clean up at the box office but it is films like this that need to be made. Boxing Day was funded by the Adelaide Film Festival and it is important that excellent films are still able to be made even if they are uncommercial. There are too many films made about affluent middle upper class situations that are not representative of society and on the other hand gritty urban dramas are often hopelessly directed and acted. I think that if film making itself is more representative there would be directors from diverse social backgrounds with interesting concepts and approaches. I think merit is always more important than getting a return on an investment when films are government funded much like public broadcasting should not be ratings driven.
Kriv Stenders has made one of the best Australian films in recent years and it will be interesting what film comes next. I have heard he is going to make a genre film and to be honest that disappoints me. Whatever he does it will no doubt be interesting as both of his feature films have been but Boxing Day stands out far more as an accomplishment. Highly recommended.
8 out of 10
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