Strange Colours

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Strange Colours
"The plot as a whole is less like a conventional story than the plot of land on which Max's home sits, waiting for the tales of the characters to grow on it organically."

Away from the big names of the main competition at Venice Film Festival, each year there is a cluster of new voices presented in its Biennale College selection. Past years have seen films like The Fits and Hotel Salvation break out to wider audiences, and Alena Lodkina and co-writer Isaac Wall stand a good chance of following suit with their moody Australian study of character and landscapes.

Milena (Kate Cheel) is not-so-fresh off an 18-hour bus ride to an outback opal mining area where her estranged dad Max (Daniel P Jones) is currently in hospital. "You're not just bouncing around the country like a tennis ball are you?" he asks her in their first, awkward exchange, the irony of the fact he has clearly managed to bounce as far as the middle of nowhere hanging like static in the air.

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Max's house is as cluttered as the surrounding landscape is empty, more of a shack than anything else, one of many similar self-built homesteads, all seemingly occupied by single men. "Even if you're broke you can live here," one of Max's mates tells her. It's an almost constant refrain from these guys, who have somehow found a sense of belonging despite the apparent isolation, insisting it's a "hard place to leave".

Lodkina and Wall keep the situation enigmatic. The blokes may look beaten up and down at heel and are rarely further than an arm's reach from a beer koozie, but there's a resilience and camaraderie about them too. Something that Milena is drawn to in younger miner Frank (Justin Courtin).

The title references the iridescent spectrum of colours produced by opals, which is used by Lodkina as a mysterious interlude in the middle of the film. But it is the quality of light and colours more generally that take centre stage amid the spartan story. Cinematographer Michael Latham, who like Lodkina has plenty of documentary experience, is atuned to the natural world, using puddles of light and shadow to heighten the sense of melancholy.

The rich colours of the earth, clay and rock come to the fore and we quickly become aware of the difference between the half-light of evening, the cooler tones of dawn and the manmade glow of the mine. Lodkina keeps a grip on the mood, enhanced by good use of sound design from Livia Ruzic - ambient noise and occasional mournful sustained notes (from composer Mikey Young) carrying with them the distant echo of loneliness as though from a frontiersman's campfire. Jones, who triumphed as a similarly tough character in Young Bodies Heal Quickly, feels as much a part of the landscape as the rocks in his mine, while Cheel impresses in a role that relies as much on what is unsaid as what is scripted.

The plot as a whole is less like a conventional story than the plot of land on which Max's home sits, waiting for the tales of the characters to grow on it organically, each one imbued with a sense of having lost - or being on the hunt for - something, but uncertain of what that particular 'something' is and what they will do if they find it. Lodkina makes you want to join them in their search.

Strange colours is available to watch on Festival Scope's Sala Web until September 19.

Reviewed on: 03 Sep 2017
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A young woman finds herself in an alien landscape when she travels to a remote opal mining community to see her estranged, ill father.

Director: Alena Lodkina

Writer: Alena Lodkina

Starring: Kate Cheel, Daniel P Jones, Justin Courtin

Year: 2017

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Australia

Festivals:

Venice 2017

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