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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Working things out in working class Australia

9/10
Author: Philby-3 from Sydney, Australia
28 October 2009

Ana Kokkinos believes in socking it to the audience, as she has done in "Head On" and The Book of Revelation". This movie, based on Andrew Bovell's play "Who's Afraid of the Working Class?" is a stark study of parent-child or rather mother-child relationships in conditions that are almost bound to make them dysfunctional, the working class north-western suburbs of Melbourne. It is neatly constructed with the events of a couple of days being seen Rashomon-like, first from the children's' viewpoints, and then from the parents'. The different strands of the story are artfully interweaved and easy to follow.

Teenager Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson), wrongly accused of stealing the mortgage money from his parents, Tanya (Deborra Lee Furness) and father Peter played by William McInnes, goes off to do some real burglary. Stacey (Eva Larazza), who must be 13 or so, and a bit simple, has left home to join her protective older brother Orton on the streets (they doss down in a charity clothing bin). Their mother Rhonda (Frances O'Connor) already has one other child in a foster home and is a textbook welfare case, pregnant again. Meanwhile two schoolgirls Katrina (Sophie Lowe) and Tricia (Ana Baboussoras) have wagged school to do a bit of shoplifting. Katrina's mother Bianca (Miranda Otto) is off indulging her pokies habit while Trisha's seamstress mother Gina (Victoria Haralabidou) has managed to drive her son Roo (Eamon Farren) on to the streets as well, where he is soon picked up by a porno film maker. One more child is involved, an adult James (Wayne Blair), who has issues about his relationship with his mother (Monica Maughan) as well.

I suppose it says something for the mothers that despite the neglect, they rush into action when something goes wrong, because deep down, they all care – the mothering instinct should not be underestimated. Not all of the stories are happily resolved but at least some relationships are restored.

Visually this film is very close-up and personal, and a challenge for the actors, who rise to it pretty well. Frances O'Connor is so good as the twitchy tattooed chain-smoking Rhonda I almost forgot it wasn't a documentary. Miranda Otto as Bianca shone also, and all the kids were good. Perhaps this film is light on entertainment value but it is absorbing as human interest – enthralling even. A much better film than "The Book of Revelation'.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Left me with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye

10/10
Author: larry-411 from United States
22 September 2009

I attended the International Premiere of "Blessed" at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. Many of my favorite films have come from Australia, so I had high hopes going into "Blessed," and was not disappointed. This is just the kind of film I look for -- a sweet little gem that will make you laugh and cry.

"Blessed" follows five mothers and seven kids -- three boys and four girls -- aged 14-18, as they wander the streets after having run away or been abandoned by their parents. Left to fend for themselves, each teen's plight is poignantly portrayed by a talented young group of Australian actors culled from thousands. Mostly unknowns, I did recognize the terrific Harrison Gilbertson as Daniel, who starred in "Accidents Happen," one of favorites from this year's Tribeca Film Festival. The mothers are appropriately anguished at the apparent loss of their loved ones, not knowing whether or not they'll ever come home. The vulnerable teens fall prey to their own as well as others' desires, and there are enough twists and turns to add additional layers to an already compelling set of stories. "Blessed" left me with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. It's a superb character-driven study of the bond between mothers and children.

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12 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Brilliant, absorbing, moving

10/10
Author: t-pitt-1 from Australia
15 September 2009

I totally disagree with the first review of Blessed. I found the film utterly absorbing and very moving and I was totally caught up in the unfolding dramas of the children's (and their mothers') lives. I don't agree that the story was clichéd or the characters one-dimensional. Other members of my film discussion group said the same thing - not one person found fault with the film. It was bleak and sad but certainly spoke to me as a mother and former teacher. The young actors who played the children were marvellous and the adult actors played their parts in a very low-key and realistic way. I barely registered the fact that some of them were among Australia's top actors. As I came out of the cinema I was thinking, 'There but for the grace of god go I...' Anna Kokkinos has done a wonderful job. The cinema I saw it in was full, and at the end hardly anybody left while the end credits were rolling (most unusual). You could have heard a pin drop. I highly recommend this film.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Gut-wrenching

9/10
Author: simmmz from Australia
30 June 2011

Australian films are often criticised for their bleakness, too often exploring dark material – but when a bleak film is as moving and effective as 'Blessed' you have to question what people are complaining about.

Set in two parts, the film follows a group of displaced youth and then their mothers, who wait anxiously for their return. Confronting and powerful, this is a poignant examination of relationships - delving into communication, intimacy, sexuality, survival and maternal instincts.

Following a complex set of characters, the various narrative threads are interwoven with skill. What could have been disjointed flows and peaks perfectly. Performances are tops – although, as with a lot of Australian films, it is obvious that many of the actors are trained in theatre and over articulate their lines. Whilst this is distracting early on, it isn't a bad thing for the overall intensity of the piece. The camera is kept very close to the actors (unflattering so), capturing something human in each and every one of them. The visuals in the film are brash, but mesmerising – and combined with a memorable and subtly moving score 'Blessed' a resonant piece of art.

The final shot of the film was one of the most haunting I've ever seen, packing a huge emotional punch. I've always been a fan of Francis O'Connor (Artificial Intelligence, Mansfield Park), but her portrayal of a chain-smoking, seemingly cold mother was a breakthrough. Likewise, Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings, War of the Worlds) was completely believable and compelling.

'Blessed' tackles its themes with a real, unrelenting brutality, making it a jarring experience initially, but it soon evolves into a thoroughly gripping, gut-wrenching, tightly wound drama that captures genuine pain.

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9 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

A genuine masterpiece.

10/10
Author: David Atfield (bits@alphalink.com.au) from Canberra, Australia
23 September 2009

Ana Kokkinos' Blessed is a heartbreaking tale of the love between mothers and their children, and is one of the finest achievements of Australian cinema. The flawless screenplay follows a number of characters through a single day, deftly telling their stories from different points of view until we develop a full understanding of the day's events. Geoff Burton's stunning cinematography focuses on unexpected things – a pattern on a wall, a flash of fabric – and then moves in close to the characters, creating a rich visual texture. The music of Cezary Skubiszewski is one of the finest movie scores of recent years, gently enhancing the drama and the brilliant performances of the actors. The entire cast is superb, but I must make special mention of Frances O'Connor, who gives the performance of her life, and the splendid Monica Maughan, whose brief appearance in the film is truly unforgettable. Blessed represents a triumphant return to form for Kokkinos, after the disappointing Book of Revelation, proving that the astonishing Head On was no fluke. Her uncompromising, insightful, deeply humanist eye makes her one of the most exciting directors working today. Blessed is a deeply moving film that you will never forget, and deserves to be showered with awards.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

provocative and confronting

8/10
Author: gregking4 from Australia
27 August 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Anna Kokkinos' films have always been provocative and confronting. Her latest, Blessed, is no exception. Like her previous films it deals with some big and important themes like adolescent angst, teens struggling with their own sexuality, trying to find their sense of identity. But here Kokkinos and regular co-writer Andrew Bovell have tackled more ambitious themes as well. Blessed looks at the relationship between mothers and their children, and the physical and psychological damage they unwittingly inflict on their offspring through neglect, indifference, selfishness, or because they are too absorbed in their own world and its problems. Blessed follows five different stories and characters from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds in a non-linear structure that jumps between the various strands. We first see the kids' point of view and then we follow events from the mothers' perspective. Not all of the stories will have a happy ending. Kokkinos has assembled a strong cast, including Deborra-Lee Furness, William McInnes, and Miranda Otto, while Frances O'Connor is heart wrenchingly good. The young cast also acquit themselves well. Cezary Skubiszewik's haunting and sublime score heightens the emotional punch.

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8 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

A tale of survival in a malevolent world

10/10
Author: Tim Johnson from Fremantle, Australia
23 September 2009

We just returned from yet another brilliant and moving Australian film; it is the third of a trilogy of tough films that we have recently attended. Do not expect anything remotely comparable to something from Hollywood. As I have commented before, these films could not be made in Hollywood; the Americans could not stand the realism, the rawness or the lack of a cutesy ending. We were particularly struck by the realness of all that we saw; I do not know people living on the edge to the extent depicted in the film but I have encountered people such those on the screen so I believe that I can vouch for the accuracy of the portrayals. The film is divided between mothers and their kids. The first half of the movie examines the kids and the kind of life they are forging on their own, generally, because the bonds of motherly love have been broken irreparably in some cases and temporarily in others. In all cases the journey for the viewer is a road full of potholes. The seven children represent different methods of survival and the mothers, it could be argued, also represent different methods of survival but at an adult level. Men play a purely secondary role, if their presence could be called a role at all. To me the males represented the alpha and omega of maleness: at one time protector, at another life-slayer. However, the film first and foremost is about females and the roles they form to survive as best they can in a disturbing, malevolent world.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

I wasn't prepared for this movie. What a masterpiece.

9/10
Author: weezebumble from Australia
9 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am cynical by nature. But I am particularly cynical of Australia films. Often they are gritty and raw, but to the point of being over the top.

Until the second half of this film, this was just a better than ordinary Aussie film. But Frances O'Connor made this into something other worldly in my opinion. The final scene was haunting but showed what a real shift in a persons perspective might look like. When she danced, filling the screen, I admit that it overwhelmed me. I felt her pain and changed my own view of her as a cold, selfish woman and mother to someone capable of deep, deep love.

I've always thought that there is no real way to gauge excellent acting and so thought awarding an actress/actor on their performances was simply a matter of large-scale ego-stroking; but I have changed my mind in this case. I am left wondering why this movie totally missed an Oscar nod, particularly considering the lacklustre nominees of the 2010 Oscars.

(And I thought the rest of the cast did a great job too)

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Classical Kurosawa format

9/10
Author: brimon28 from Canberra, Australia
19 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This ageing reviewer usually flies straight into print after seeing a film, but Blessed provoked thought and discussion. Kokkinos has made a reverential tribute to Akira Kurosawa, who half-a-century ago made Rashomon. Maybe Kurosawa was not the first to use the dramatic overlays and interlinks of groups of people to puzzle and then mystify the audience. But he surely perfected it, and Kokkinos applies the technique to effect. Some might see a resemblance to the various versions of La Ronde, and we do expect to see the characters meet towards the finish. The characters are admirably rendered by a great cast, and I think the casting agent deserves credit for persuading such top performers to appear in such a difficult play. It is difficult to pick out any one as outstanding, but Otto's scream was electrifying. Does anyone remember the screams in Rashomon?

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Beautiful and wonderful

10/10
Author: oOgiandujaOo from United Kingdom
30 October 2009

I was tremendously moved by this movie from Australia, and the audience at the London Film Festival were very appreciative of director Ana Kokkinos who attended to introduce the film and for a Q&A. Blessed is based on an Australian play called "Who's afraid of the working class" which was produced in 1999. So the project to make it cinematic has taken the best part of 10 years for Ana Kokkinos. Ana's focus in the film was towards the relationships between mothers and their children (or blessings), and stripped out anything from the play that didn't fit in that agenda.

The film is simply that, an examination of the bond between mother and child, with a strong backdrop of contemporary Melbourne. I think it was a challenge to try and strip the theatricality out, but that seems to have been pulled off really well (both with the structure of the film which is very cinematic and the focus on the close-up of the human face, which is a cornerstone of cinema). There are around five different stories here, which have some degree of connectivity, which avoids the choppiness you can get in a typical portmanteau film. Mostly we are seeing children on the streets of Melbourne, instead of in school, in some degree of confrontation or peril. There is a structure so that you can see the same story twice, once from the children's side and once from the adult's side.

I think the cast is cracking. Frances O'Connor as Rhonda if electric in this movie, like a force of nature, a flaming creature. She does some terrible things, they are sins of omission more than anything else (though they are still heinous). There is a scene in this movie where heavily pregnant Rhonda dances in a nightclub after a huge incident, whilst her social worker looks on in awe and disbelief. That's the attitude of the audience mirrored. Rhonda's alive with sexuality and agony throughout the whole movie, so apart from the way most people live in their ultra-sanitised lives where they've tried to remove everything animal. The social worker is a proxy for the middle class audience member, who is university educated and has erased their pagan side.

The level of confrontation in the movie is astonishing to anyone (like myself) who lives in a confrontation-phobic milieu. A police detective in a darkened interview room, full of frustration and rage, tells two truant girls how miserable they are and stupid, and how they've got no talent going for them and that they know nothing, and will never amount to anything.

Cezary Skubiszewik music is absolutely haunting, it's played over the opening scenes where we see all the children asleep in their beds. You know right then that you're in for a very special movie. It's a raging torrent of love and hatred and pure emotion that leaves you bewildered and touched by the dilemmas and hideous positions that the characters find themselves in.

I don't have any trouble in saying that this is the finest film I saw in a programme of at least 25 films, including the eventual winner of the festival, Jacques Audiard's Un prophète.

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