October 2012

Arts & Letters

The Best of Australian Film 2012

By Adrian Martin
'Hail', Amiel Courtin-Wilson, 2011. Image supplied.

A survey of the last year’s films seems to reinforce the notion that our filmmakers stick to – or are inexorably confined by – well-trodden genres. There were cutesy comedies – Kath & Kimderella, PJ Hogan’s Mental and Working Dog’s insufferable Any Questions for Ben? – and dramas that played like made-for-television movies with visual affectations thrown in, such as Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here. Also present were braver films taking on weighty social and historical issues – Cate Shortland’s Lore and Tony Krawitz’s Dead Europe – but whose directors’ ambitions weren’t matched by their command of the form.

We can, however, look to the no-budget digital filmmaking scene for the latest surge of innovation within Australian cinema. Bill Mousoulis’ Wild and Precious, filmed across several countries, has an immediacy and insight that far better resourced directors must envy. But the year’s stand-out is a comet that seemed to shoot in from nowhere: Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail.

There is an unsung tradition in Australian culture – in the plays of Daniel Keene, for example, or the films of Alkinos Tsilimidos – of gazing into the lives of ‘battlers’, but not being content to find there merely the proof of some sociological thesis concerning deprivation or alienation. Against the setting of desperate lives, then, are played the most elemental passions – love, loyalty, revenge, honour.

Hail takes such a perception to a visionary level. Daniel P Jones and Leanne Letch – playing characters based on themselves – are dogged by the usual raft of ‘underprivileged’ problems: unemployment, addiction, a criminal record, shady contacts. But their love for each other is fierce and absolute, and Courtin-Wilson renders this emotion in a mode that mixes the seeming spontaneity of John Cassavetes’ movies with the kinetic, abstract texture of the French audio-visual artist Philippe Grandrieux.

Plot-wise, only one major thing happens in Hail – and I won’t give it away. Suffice to say, Courtin-Wilson aims to get right inside Jones’s troubled psyche, and to convey, in richly cinematic terms, his inner turmoil. No previous Australian feature has gone this far into a disturbed sensory world – beyond both mundane realism and the comfortable middle-class distance of ‘social concern’.

Adrian Martin
Adrian Martin is an associate professor at Monash University, and a film and arts critic. His books include Phantasms, Once Upon a Time in America and Movie Mutations. @AdrianMartin25

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