Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Year Without Sex (It’s a film, people)

I’ve decided to write about my favourite Australian film for this year after Louis Nowra went and hated on Australian Film (capitals most certainly required) in the society and culture magazine, The Monthly. (Honestly, I hear that title and I just shudder, imagining 1960s Maiden Aunts whispering to young nieces, “have you got your monthlies yet?”... I digress...)

The cast of "My Year Without Sex" (L-R) Portia Bradley as Ruby, Matt Day as Ross, Sacha Horler as Natalie and Jonathan Segat as Louis

So Nowra was none too impressed with the this, or really any years’ films (link to the online preview of the article here: In the full article, Nowra writes that after deciding to sit down to watch most of the Australian films released this year, he found they suffered a "monotonous bleakness", adding that they are "so dispiriting that they make Leonard Cohen seem positively cheery". Basically, if Australian films were personified, according to Nowra, they’d be beige-clad emo kids, who all just stand, dull and gloomy in the corner.

I haven’t, like Nowra, sat down to immerse in all that the Australian film industry has offered us in 2009. So basically, I’m pontificating and generalising without being truly educated (always a dangerous situation). However, I’ve watched enough Australian films from previous years, and I tend to agree with him, up until a point. Australian films can be terribly grim and unsatisfying, and for some reason, the more grim and unsatisfying they are, the more props they receive from critics and the public alike. Think “Jindabyne” (2006) where there’s a lot of cold, empty angst, and killer/rapists get to roam free amongst the sub-alpine scenery. Or “Noise” (2007) where there’s further random, unresolved death (albeit this time in grim cheerless suburban Melbourne). And, in Noise, just to really make sure you feel like someone swiped the final bite of your sandwich, it’s kept deliberately ambiguous as to whether Brendan Cowell’s protagonist character lives or dies (personally, I hope he died. He was a jackass).

I know that some argue that this speaks to a certain “sophistication” that these films possess. “All films don’t have to be neat Hollywood narratives!” the wanky-film crowds cry. But before you go all Margaret-and-David on me and start defending the depth and realism of Australia’s films, I want to make a few points: Firstly, even though your film is wrought, probably involving dead/dying/emotionally disconnected relatives, it doesn’t mean it’s good. Secondly, resolution doesn’t actually cheapen a story. Austen managed to resolve her narratives. So did Dickens. Hell, Shakespeare achieved ultimate resolution in almost every play, either marrying or killing everyone off. No one’s accused him of being some populist schmaltzy sell-out. Anyway, my point is that a narrative can still be interesting, thought-provoking and successful even as it is resolved. Finally, elements of “happy” and “funny” doesn’t automatically = Rob Schiender’s “The Animal”. Films can be make you laugh and still be intellectually rigorous. The Australian film industry needs to get on this concept.

I would like to use Sarah Watt’s film “My Year Without Sex” (2009) as an example of an Australian film that is sweet and quirky and fun but also incredibly believable, challenging and emotionally nuanced (simply setting the tone of your film at “grim” does not make it nuanced. It feels like you’re getting hit over the head with a hammer). “My Year Without Sex” offers the audience a myriad of emotional notes – there are some very dark, scary moments in this film but the key to its ultimate success is that they are tempered with “happy”, often ironically gorgeous other moments. A clear example of this occurs when Natalie and Ross’ children, Louis and Ruby, reveal a giant “Welcome Bunny!” sign moments after Ross, having forgotten to buy any chocolates for Easter, says that they (his kids) probably don’t still believe in/care about the Easter Bunny and all the chocolately goodness that the said bunny brings. The film then cuts to Ross, at the local servo, picking through the remaining four, broken chocolate rabbits.

Welcome, Bunny

So, Louis Nowra, there was at least one fantastic, non-grim film made in 2009. And it's important to note that the Australian film industry will only become more interesting and complex if more films like “My Year Without Sex” are made.

“My Year Without Sex” – available now at all good video shops (I grew up in the 90s. I’ll be renting DVDs from “video” shops forever).

Esther xx

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