Rating: Rated M15+ (strong coarse language and themes)
This film was officially entered by Australia in the 2008 Rotterdam Film Festival and was created for the screen by Michael Joy and John L. Simpson. It depicts in detail the events of an encounter group which meets over a period of time. The group involves six men, all with different issues, that need talking through and the support of those around them.
The group is led by Paul (Paul Gleeson) who has the group to his home, once a week. All use his home as their meeting place, but they are strangers to each other in the world outside. The encounter sessions are interspersed by vignettes of the men in the external world they have helped to create for themselves. Their problems are major, but they are all part of the human condition which reflects the stresses of life, and the problems are variable. Alex (Grant Dodwell) has a gambling problem that has made him a failure as a father to his son. Cecil (Don Reid) is struggling with depression and loneliness that stem from personal awareness of his past failures as a husband and a father. Freddy (Steve Rodgers) is separated from his family, and desperately wants contact with his child and wife. Moses (Paul Tassone) has problems controlling his rage, and Lucas (Steve Le Marquand) hates gays and acts out pathologically against them. Into their midst, steps Anthony (William Zappa) who brings a problem that forces all the other men to confront their own feelings and to re-assess their assumptions about the life they led before coming together as a group.
Not surprisingly, a movie about an all-men encounter group is rough on language and the issues being raised are personal and potentially distressing to those exposed to six vulnerable people unravelling themselves. Support is forthcoming to the men who stay in the group, and the support they give each other is mingled with resentment, anger and ambivalence as the therapy progresses. But as they air their problems among themselves, the men come to bond to each other, and also to understand that some private fears can be faced and met. Towards the end of the therapeutic process, a tragedy overtakes the group - the suicide of one of the members - which deeply affects all those within it. This then becomes the catalyst for the men facing up to life’s responsibilities, and it becomes in turn an agent of profound therapeutic change.
The acting is excellent from each of the men, especially Alex and Freddy. The men brilliantly capture loneliness, resentment, anger and frustration; and Paul, as the leader of the group runs a fine line between letting issues get away from him, becoming involved himself, and keeping our focus on them. The direction is tight and the film is most unusual overall. It is easy to approach this movie by asking oneself, “what do we really learn about the human condition from a group of men simulating their emotions in an all-male encounter world?” But what we are asked to embark upon is a very emotional journey built upon the personal constructions of male stress by a group of six very talented actors. This film is about males who have male issues, but its impact is far wider than that. Each actor was working according to a scenario, which invited creative improvisation, and it is very revealing to see how they ran with what they were given. Undoubtedly, the insights created do expand our understanding of the human condition, but it is particularly absorbing to see how these men chose to act out their projected experiences, and the solutions shown to turn their stress around. In the pursuit of complete authenticity, one might have looked for events as they unfolded naturally, not scripted in part for a group of actors. Despite this, however, there is enormous face validity to this movie. It has been created to show male versions of male distress, and where fatherhood ultimately comes into the sharpest focus, the film represents a most impressive achievement for all concerned.
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Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the National Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.