Len Phillips thinks that three recent Australian productions, The Proposition, Jewboy and Little Fish, have been overrated.
At the instigation of France, UNESCO – the UN’s cultural agency – has just passed a resolution that allows countries to protect their own local cultures from the rest of the world. Who knows what this will mean in practice? But at the head of the fear of cultural invasion are the products of Hollywood which the French, as well as around 150 other countries, wish to restrict.
Only the US and one other country voted no to the UNESCO resolution. Australia was one of only four countries to abstain.
While I am no fan of much of the cinema that pours onto our shores from the US, I am utterly opposed to the idea of giving my government – any government – the right to restrict its flow. It is a worrying idea and can offer us nothing other than a restriction on our right to have available the widest range of what the world has to offer.
Moreover, I must say that, as an Australian, I would not be too keen on having our own cinema forced on us at the cost of missing out on films from overseas, especially given some of the latest of our local offerings.
As it happens, I ended up seeing three local productions over the past month, and what a dismal lot they were. The first, The Proposition, was a film awarded four- or five-star ratings in every review I saw.
Never trust rave reviews
Since I never trust Australian journalists’ rave reviews of Australian films, I went along with heavy heart, made all the heavier since the film was being shown in the tiniest cinema at our local movie house. Five-star ratings notwithstanding, no one was attending – and, I might say, with good reason.
So here is the skill-testing question to see if you understand how all too many movies in Australia depict their moral centre. We have two groups in a story set around the 1850s. One group is made up of law-abiding townspeople; the other consisting of a bunch of murderous rapists. Which group do you suppose is treated with the greater level of sympathy and respect?
The director, quoted in the film’s advertising, gives the game totally away. About his film he wrote:
“There are the epic themes of conflict between the law and the outlaw, the oppressor and the oppressed.”
Anyone who understands the parallel structure of the written word will see that the law has been equated with the oppressors, while the outlaws are seen as the oppressed. This is how the director subconsciously thinks, and it was just this way of thinking that informed every frame of his film.
Lovely cinematography and all that, but a revolting plot. And it is as much a worry that no reviewers seem to have even noticed. What can they possibly be thinking?
The second film had the obnoxious title, Jewboy. A truly vile name that could in my view only earn its keep by actually looking at an anti-Semitic theme. Instead, we were presented with a tritely superficial examination of the wayward wanderings of a religious Jew who had lost his faith.
No doubt it happens; but in this case we are not told why, other than being offered a vague connection to his father’s death. The core of the film, however, revolves around the sexual repression of members of this traditional religious community. The hero is starved of sexual gratification by the communal laws against so much as touching a member of the opposite sex.
So he quits his community and becomes a taxi driver in Sydney. To cut a short story shorter (it lasted less than an hour), the film reveals that beneath the caftan and the hat, there is the crudest Australian yobbo trying to get out.
The film pandered, it seemed to me, to the twin obsessions of so many on the left: its hatred of religious belief and its advocacy of the freest expression of sexual licence. So, naturally, it has won a number of awards.
Finally, there was Little Fish which, to my eyes, was the best of the three but as flawed as the others. Its virtues come from actually being able to build a measure of tension, although the plot development was maddeningly slow.
Yet, with whom are we asked to sympathise but a bunch of drug-runners whose lives are put in danger because of the kinds of people their line of work has forced them to associate with?
Nor are there the usual extenuating circumstances one has come to expect in such films. You know, the boy selling heroin to finance his sister’s heart surgery, or the girl trying to save her parents from financial ruin brought on by some villainous bank.
Not this time. Here they are looking for some serious money, and this is the easiest way to get it. Now how are we supposed to sympathise with that?
Though a thousand reviewers may insist that a film is a must-see, it will fall dead at the box office, as each of these has done, if its underlying values are as empty as each of these is.
None of them was a morally serious film, although each in its way tried to pretend that it was.
- reviewed by Len Phillips