Australian cinema has been stuffed to the gills with films similar to writer/director Rhys Graham’s Galore — airy, well acted and technically proficient and down-in-the-dumps dramas that have eroded the general public’s faith in local cinema’s ability to entertain them.
Entertainment is a misunderstood word (especially in this business) and too often associated with films like comedies and high seas adventures. When hangings and crucifixions were de rigueur weekend activities, crowds went to be entertained.
It became evident that something had gone badly wrong when “Australian film” came to be regarded by the general public as a genre itself, a tufted rug of conventions intended to satisfy the palettes of latte sipping city slickers.
A story about disaffected youth set in days leading up to the 2003 Canberra bushfires, Galore embodies virtually all the “genre’s” trademarks. It is an intimate portrait of best friends bogged down by technical and storytelling indie Oz clichés.
The story features a car crash, infidelity, the unexpected death of a central character, a cautionary message about teenage rebellion, yearning voice over narration, something hurled through a window and the cinematography oscillates between two modes: summery and wintry. We see the first when life is peachy and love is in the air, the second when the worm turns and voilà — the needle and the damage done.
For a plot description the Melbourne International Film Festival program guide (where the film premiered in 2013) summarises it perfectly — the story, its lofty but familiar aspirations and its “seen it before” place in Australian cinema. The description below comes close to hitting unintentional parody:
As four teens navigate the flashpoint of adolescent relationships, their lives will be forever scarred by a tragedy that engulfs their city.
Teenagers Billie and Laura, who live in Canberra’s suburban outskirts, are best friends and share everything — even, as it turns out, Laura’s boyfriend Danny, although Laura doesn’t know this. During the summer of Canberra’s bushfires, Billie’s mother welcomes the troubled Isaac into her care and his presence causes disarray in the girls’ friendship: Laura finds herself drawn to the gentle but intense newcomer while Billie’s unpredictable ways threaten self-destruction.
Despite the morbidity that ensconces their performances, Ashleigh Cummings and Lily Sullivan are excellent as Billie and Laura. Their presence runs the gamut from radiant, dark, innocent and freewheeling to heavy-minded and burdened by guilt.
The film’s game-changing death was a surprise but in hindsight, among all the other cliches, it shouldn’t have been. It’s hard not to view it cold-heartedly as the kind of shoehorned dramatic revelation that helped define, and ruin, perceptions of what the Australian film industry stands for. It also overshadows Galore’s qualities, which include Graham’s intuitive visual direction (a couple of scenes are shot in beautifully intimate close-up) and the cast’s sizable talent.
Bookend narration is wishy washy and extraneous, warning the audience of the upcoming fire in a manner that could been more laterally handled (the fire is a symbol, of course, for personal tragedy). Galore ends on a high note, the set and emotional trajectory of its protagonist leveling out into a compelling blend, but that’s the end end — the last 30 seconds or so. A character gazes off into the distance as a rousing score clicks into higher gear (Oz film cliche #267).
*This is an edited version of a review originally published at Crikey in September 2013.