Blessed

Blessed

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Blessed is not the sort of film that instantly grabs you, in fact, it is such a large ensemble piece that for the first few minutes you could be forgiven for fearing you will never get a handle on all the characters and for worrying that the film - adapted from the play Whatever Happened To The Working Class? - might not be able to escape its stage origins. But if you give it a chance, Ana Kokkinos's latest turns into a slow-burning, emotionally haunting film that thrusts the bond between mother and child under a microscope.

Her film tells a series of loosely connected stories about seven Melbourne children from blue-collar families and their odysseys through the urban jungle during the course of one day... before shifting tack half way through to repeat the action of the same day, this time seen through the eyes of the children's mothers.

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Among the kids are sassy Katrina (Sophie Lowe) and Trisha (Anastasia Babbousouris), playing truant to undertake a little light shoplifting; Trisha's brother Roo (Eamon Farren), who has run away from home and finds himself embroiled in the making of a porno film; Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson), who opts for crime after finding himself wrongly accused of theft; Orton (Reef Ireland), who has fled the home of his single mum with his mentally challenged sister Stacey (Eva Lazzaro) for reasons that are more involved than first seems likely; and James (Wayne Blair), who though older than the others, is still coming to terms with his childhood relationship with his mum.

As we watch the kids face up to various perils, some emotional, some more imminently life-threatening, we are drawn into speculation as to the family environments which have fuelled their situations. These assumptions come under as much scrutiny as the film's characters themselves as the film moves into its second half and we see the same series of events from the various mothers' perspectives. This layering on of a secondary assessment of the day makes it all the easier to see how the smallest of actions can be misinterpreted, depending upon your viewpoint.

The script by Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius and Christos Tsiolkas - each of whom was responsible for one of the quartet of stories that make up the play from which this adaptation springs - paints a complex picture of motherhood/childhood as a fluid state. Sometimes parents have the emotional reaction of a child and vice versa. These notions of motherhood defy you to file the various mums presented here categorically under 'good' or 'bad'. This is not to say Blessed is seeking to be an apologist for some of the dysfunctional working-class situations presented, rather it is suggesting situations are rarely as clearly defined as they might first appear and even mothers who are in many ways neglectful, the film contends, may share a tight emotional bond with their kids.

Kokkinos is helped enormously by a first-rate cast. The children bring a natural fragility to their roles, but it is the older actresses who make sure we feel full force of the film's emotional weight. It is impossible to drag your eyes from Frances O'Connor's Rhonda - a pregnant, 'white trash' mother, who in less capable hands could have easily been a one-dimensional cliche - while Mirando Otto as a gambling addict and Deborra-Lee Furness as a nurse whose marriage is in a mess, also put in beautifully pitched performances. You may have to work with Kokkinos initially to get into the rhythm of Blessed, but she richly rewards this early patience with an intricate - and very cinematic - picture of love and loss, which despite touching on some harrowing of issues still strikes an ultimate note of hope. It's doubtful mothers of any age will be able to resist the urge to phone and check on their children as they file out of the cinema after the film's deeply affecting climax.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2009
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Seven children wander the streets at night, before we see the odyssey from their mothers' perspective.
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Director: Ana Kokkinos

Writer: Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas

Starring: Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-Lee Furness, Sophie Lowe, Tasma Walton, Costas Kilias, Harrison Gilbertson, Eva Lazzaro, Dennis Kreusler, Victoria Haralabidou, Samuel Ross Forbes Wright, Monica Maughan, Eamon Farren, Anastasia Babbousouris, Wayne Blair

Year: 2009

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: Australia


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