The Home Song Stories, 103
mins, rating not yet available, opening in cinemas on 16 August 2007.
Fracture, 112 mins, rated M,
opening in cinemas on 2 August 2007
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published
in the August 2007 issue of The New South Wales Law Society
In my review of Romulus, My
Father in the June 2007 NSW
Law Society Journal, I mentioned the handful of Australian films
that focus on the migrant experience. But art reflects life, and so in
July we reviewed Lucky Miles,
about refugees stranded in northern Australia, and in August we have The Home Song Stories.
This is the lightly fictionalised autobiography of Tony Ayres, the
Australian writer/ director (Walking
on Water, 2002, Sadness,
1999). Tony, who was born in Macau, is called Tom in the film. Tom is a
Chinese-Australian man writing a script about his life. His script
begins in 1964, with Tom as a small boy in Hong Kong, living with his
mother, Rose, and older sister, May.
Although told from young Tom’s perspective, the story has at its centre
the beautiful, glamorous and troubled Rose (played by the lovely Joan
Chen), a nightclub singer and single mother, with a penchant for
picking up new “uncles” for the children. As the film opens she has
just hooked up with “Uncle” Bill, an Australian naval officer. Rose
follows him to Melbourne and marries him, but a week later leaves him
and takes the children to Sydney to see “Uncle” Wu. The next 7 years
are years of drifting from one uncle to another, until in 1971 Rose
decides her only option is to go back with the children to suburban
Melbourne and Uncle Bill (now to be called “Daddy”).
The contrast between the early scenes in Hong Kong and the scenes in
the Melbourne ‘burbs is stark. In one particularly memorable section of
the film, Rose hangs out 5 exotic cheongsams on the Hills Hoist and
then struts down the street in a vibrant blue one split high to the
thigh, with matching parasol. She’s a knockout, but she’s also quite a
shock to the locals. These two scenes paint a vivid picture of the
culture clash described by the film.
The migrant family finds it hard to fit in. They all hate the
Australian food. Tom’s Aussie playmates can be cruel, and the family
finds it quite difficult living with Bill’s mother Norma (Kerry Walker,
very funny) while Bill is away at sea. Rose is playful, and
delightfully child-like at times, but often she goes too far, and Norma
slings her disapproving looks. Finally Rose pushes her luck to breaking
point and the family is out on the street again. None of Rose’s plans
lasts long. She is restless and self-centred and her flightiness takes
its toll on the children.
There are many twists and turns in the life of this little family. One
involving young May is disturbing, and painful to observe. But I’m
afraid the ordeal of watching one setback after another eventually wore
me down. It is a hard thing to say of someone’s life story that it
seemed indulgent and overlong, but that’s how it felt to me.
The film has been praised for its cinematography (by Nigel Bluck), and
the wide screen format is used quite effectively. But choosing a muted
colour palette of greens and browns for the scenes in the suburbs,
broken only by Rose’s beautiful wardrobe in vibrant blue, black, orange
and rose, makes the film seem murky. And deciding to film background
scenes and subsidiary characters in soft focus – or even out-of-focus –
makes for a blurry look overall. Despite this, the film has earned high
praise on the international film festival circuit.
The Home Song Stories
certainly portrays the clash of cultures very well, and Ayres and his
team imbue the film with a great sense of time and place, with
meticulous sumptuous production and costume design. Yet I found myself
If a home-grown story like this is not your cup of tea, you might like
to see Fracture, a thriller
(which I have not yet seen) starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, 2006). When a
meticulous structural engineer (Hopkins) discovers that his beautiful
(much younger) wife is having an affair, he plans the perfect murder.
Gosling plays the young and ambitious district attorney who prosecutes
The film is described by its makers as “a tense duel of intellect and
strategy”. It was directed by Gregory Hoblit, who also made the fairly
routine crime thriller Primal Fear
(1996). Also in the cast is the ever-reliable David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), so the
cast alone makes it worth a look.