113 mins, rated MA, opens in cinemas 10 September 2009.
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published
in the Sept 2009 issue of The New South Wales Law Society
7 children wander the streets of Melbourne over the course of one
night. Their mothers do not know where they are. We know from
overhearing a news bulletin on the radio that the body of a young
person has been found floating in the river. Is this one of the 7? Will
the 7 make it through the night? Why don’t their mothers know where
they are? Do they care? These are the questions posed by Australian
director Ana Kokkinos (Head On, The
Book of Revelation) in her new feature film, Blessed, which has
been selected to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in
Blessed is structured in 2
parts. In the first half, we follow the journey of the children through
the night, seeing everything through their eyes. The film begins with a
beautiful montage of sleeping children, but as the camera pulls back we
see that some of them are sleeping “rough”.
As the day goes on we get to know these kids. Katrina and Trisha are
street-smart teenaged schoolgirls who swear, smoke, and drink whisky at
school, then go shoplifting. Trisha’s brother, Roo, is living on the
street. Daniel runs away after his mother accuses him of theft. Brother
and sister Orton and Stacey have run away from their incapable mother
for reasons that will soon be revealed. And James, a grown-up
Aboriginal son (played by the talented Wayne Blair), has different
At last there’s a new dawn, but we are back at the start of the same
day. This time we will see all the events from the mothers’ point of
In one way this 2-part structure it is very satisfying. After puzzling
for an hour over the motivations of the mothers, it is a relief to
finally see things from their side. As lawyers know only too well,
there are (at least) 2 sides to every story. But keeping the audience
in suspense for so long is a delicate thing to pull off, and I don’t
believe the film is entirely successful in maintaining that
balance. By the end of the first hour, I was impatient at being
kept in the dark about so much.
The second half of the film is also fragmented, of course, because it
needs to tell each of the mothers’ stories. Again, this kind of
storytelling is hard to get right: just as you get into one story, the
film cuts to another one. But on the whole the experienced
Australian editor, Jill Bilcock, keeps the multiple stories on track to
their individual resolutions.
The film was adapted from the play Who’s
Afraid of the Working Class?, commissioned by the Melbourne
Workers’ Theatre and first performed at the Victorian Trades Hall
Council in 1998. 4 writers were commissioned to write a play that would
deal with various political, social, and economic issues. The film
differs from the play in focusing more closely on the relationships
between the mothers and the children.
The downbeat mood of the Blessed
is relieved by 3 outstanding virtues. First, it looks great.
Distinguished Australian cinematographer Geoff Burton (Sunday Too Far Away, Storm Boy, The Sum of
Us) teams with the production designers to create a warm beauty
on the mean streets of Melbourne. And extreme close-ups show the beauty
and humanity of all the faces.
Next, the 4 writers involved are top class: Andrew Bovell, Melissa
Reeves, Patricia Cornelius and Christos Tsiolkas largely avoid the
temptation to spill over into soap opera. They, together with director
Ana Kokkinos, look always for the bigger picture.
Finally, all the actors are superb. Miranda Otto, Frances O’Connor,
Deborra-Lee Furness, playing 3 of the mothers, are top Australian
actors. Miranda Otto is particularly powerful in a scene where she
confronts her image in a mirror. The children, too are excellent:
Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate),
Anastasia Baboussouras, Eamon Farren, and Reef Ireland stand out with
It’s a fair bet that if you see this film at the cinema, and you’re a
parent, you’ll want to rush straight home to your kids, give them a big
hug, and tell them you love them.