Sunday in the parkThe mystery of a man, a tree and an umbrella
In his underrated film Noise (2007), Matthew Saville took a police procedural and largely jettisoned the usual form, opting instead for a nuanced character study of a bewildered, tinnitus-afflicted cop (Brendan Cowell) trying to make sense of a complex crime. Saville had directed Chris Lilley’s television comedy We Can Be Heroes (2005). But it was with Noise that he established both a style of his own (deft, contemplative, subtle) and a field of enquiry: how can one’s sense of his or her social standing feel so impotent?
In Saville’s Felony (2013, from Joel Edgerton’s script) the focus became less existential and more overtly moral, as three cops try, in different ways and with different agendas, to either cover up or expose a crime. Now, in A Month of Sundays (in national release), Saville has removed the ticking clocks and urgency of Felony, and returned to the realm of a purer kind of existential crisis.
This time our proto-Camus is real-estate agent Frank Mollard (Anthony LaPaglia), whose mid-life alienation is playing out in the Adelaide suburbs, under the gently amused eye of his boss, Phillip Lang (John Clarke). Frank can sell houses well enough, and he has a knack for writing snappy real-estate copy. But his relationship with the profession, which Phillip sees as being “basically a product of the divorce industry”, is at best, right now, desultory.
Frank is recently divorced from Wendy (Justine Clarke), an actor who stars in a TV medical drama. Frank Junior (Indiana Crowther) seems as impervious to father–son interaction as any teenager. Everyone gets along well enough, but no one seems to know how to set forth into new lives. “You’ve got to start … putting some distance between us,” Frank tells Wendy. “I mean, for starters, take my name off speed dial.”
In his slough of despond, Frank receives a misdialled call from a woman whom, for a few moments, he possibly mistakes for his dead mother. We’re not in a ghost story, except insofar as Frank’s entire psyche is wraith-like. Frank’s business with his mother is unfinished. But Sarah (Julia Blake), the caller, is like a clean white page. “I want you to know that I’m not weird or unbalanced,” Frank tells her, when he calls back and asks if he might visit her.
A Month of Sundays is pithy, simple and tightly constructed, although not everything works: there’s a thread about Phillip’s dying father, a World War Two veteran with dementia, which feels a little forced. But perhaps that’s because LaPaglia, such a fine rider of the fault lines between anxiety and ease, holds our gaze.
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