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Hanna Mangan Lawrence
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Mabo tells the story of one of Australia's national heroes - Eddie Koiki Mabo, the Torres Strait Islander who left school at age 15, yet spearheaded the High Court challenge that overthrew the fiction of terra nullius.
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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