Face to Face

FACE TO FACE. Starring Vince Colosimo, Sigrid Thornton, Luke Ford and Matthew Newton. Directed by Michael Rymer. 88 minutes. Rated M (Strong coarse language).

A film that should interest all who are involved in disputes and conflict resolution – which means all of us.

David Moore, an Australian workplace consultant, has worked in the area for some years.  The process of Community Conferencing was used in cases of youth justice:  an offender, the person attacked, friends, relatives, employers and others were invited, and consented, to be part of the meeting where a facilitated discussion took place whereby members felt free to express themselves and the facilitator enabled responses to be made with an end to finding some kind of resolution.  These conferences are also called ‘Restorative Justice Conferences’.  Clearly this kind of mediation and communication can be more personally effective than courts and litigation.  The potential is strong for workplace issues like harassment, for school bullying situations.  It has potential for enabling restorative justice in organisations and in religious groups and churches.

Playwright David Williamson became interested in these processes and wrote three plays dramatising cases.  David Moore interested director, Michael Rymer (Australian Film Institute winner for Angel Baby in 1995) in the plays and he adapted one of them for the screen and directed this film, Face to Face.

The screenplay takes advantage of the screen medium.  While the main scenes of the film take place in the conference room (with plenty of possibilities for close-ups and for pacy cross-cut editing during interchanges), there are opportunities to go outside the room, for the audience to see episodes played out in fact (which gives the audience the advantage over the characters themselves, and the facilitator, because we see all episodes whereas the characters can only remember what they were involved in).

One of the main strengths of the film is David Williamson’s dialogue, realistic, sometimes rough and ready in an Australian expletive way.  His skill in arranging the interchanges and confrontations so that audience sympathy shifts as we understand the character better, find that we were judging on appearances and, as the characters begin to realise, there are many factors in a conflict so that it is not simply a matter of ‘just clearing it up and getting an apology’.

In this case, drawn from actual notes, a young worker has crashed into the back of his employer’s car because he was angry at being fired.  He is not an intelligent young man but he was happy with his job.  We see the crash and are obviously sympathetic towards the company manager and his wife who sees the aftermath. (How would we feel if it happened to us?).  However, as the mediation continues, all kinds of problems arise: the butt of jokes on a building site, racist slurs and the anger they incur, authorities knowing what was going on and not intervening; then there are the site problems, communications and issues of pay which sow discontent and give rise to anger and harassment; then there are the financial issues of people living beyond their means, envy; there are also relationship issues, within marriage and outside it.  It is surprising how much material the film gets through in its not very long running time.

The acting is persuasive.  We can believe that all the characters are real.  They have enough solid Williamson dialogue to speak.  They have blind spots and hostilities.  But they are challenged to face them.

Of course, someone will say it is all very contrived.  But, that is the point.  It is a contrived process for justice.  And it relies on the skill of the facilitator, both sympathetic and fair and firm.  I think most audiences will be drawn into the dispute – not too far from some of our own experiences, and will be moved by the moments of resolution.

Matthew Newton is the facilitator and does a fine job of showing how it could be done.  Luke Ford stands out as the young man with a short fuse, the target of workers’ jokes that have dire consequences.  Vince Colosimo is believable as the boss (who, as he realises, has very few redeeming qualities).  Sigrid Thornton is his long-suffering wife.  An excellent group of character actors bring the proceedings alive: the young man’s mother, the foreman, the Arab worker (who came to the country aged eight but is still a target of jokes), the mousy accountant, the attractive PA, the young man’s best friend.

Always an interesting film.  But, it should also prove a useful film for studying and discussion.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Australian Film Syndicate

Out: September 8, 2011.

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