Running Away Up North Down Under

in 13th Brisbane International Film Festival

by Christine Cremen

If there was a single recurring motif in a number of the more noteworthy films screened at Brisbane this year it was characters running away.

A young writer from Tokyo, respectable and well-educated, takes on tedious piecework making up trays of yakitori in the slums of Osaka (‘Akame 48 Waterfalls’, Japan).

A newly-married couple and their male friend, whose secret love triangle is in danger of discovery, leave their remote village and try to survive together in the city (‘Darkness Bride’, Hong Kong).

A young woman who is a boozer, a bulimic and who totally lacks a sense of self-worth picks up a truck driver on a whim in the parking lot of her local convenience store and goes on the road with him (‘Vibrator’, Japan). (‘Vibrator’, which had our jury’s unanimous vote for Best Picture, was awarded the prize for its tender approach to sexuality, something seldom seen in cinema.)

Then there’s ‘Tom White’ (Australia). Colin Friels has the title role of a white collar worker who, ordered to take stress leave, suddenly abandons his wife, his children and his profession, and ends up living on the streets.

Significantly, amongst all those we see taking flight in these features, Friels is the only middle-aged character. Refreshingly his descent from middle class respectability to the lower depths is presented neither as a tragic decline nor as a spiritual journey towards self-knowledge. At the end of the movie he’s not back to where he was when it started – a lot has happened and he has found for himself a sort of surrogate family amongst the marginalised members of society he temporarily teams up with – but there’s nothing here hurrying him towards a neat conclusion, either happy or tragic.

This is Colin Friels’ picture: he’s in practically every scene and almost is frighteningly absorbed in his role. (Unfortunately, FIPRESCI has no provision for an acting award. If we had, we would have given it to Friels.) But there are pleasures to be had also from the performances of, amongst others, Loene Carmen (best known for ‘The Year My Voice Broke’) and the ubiquitous Bill Hunter, stalwart of the Australian cinema, as inescapable in Australian movies as Gerard Depardieu is in French movies.

In passing it should be noted that among the brave elements in Friels’ performance is a brief scene of full-frontal nudity.