Strange Colours

STRANGE COLOURS. Starting: Kate Cheel, and Daniel. P. Jones. Also, Justin Courtin. Directed by Alena Lodkina. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong coarse language). 85 min.

This Australian film sets events in a remote opal mining town in outback Australia to which a young woman travels to visit her sick father, from whom she is estranged. It is the feature-length debut film of Russian-born Director, Alina Lodkina, and the film was shot in and around the town of Lightning Ridge, NSW. Lodkina co-wrote the film.

The title of the movie represents the striking colours of the opals that are dug up from the ground. The Director of the film was previously responsible for the short award-winning documentary, “Lightning Ridge: The Land of Black Opals”, made in 2016.

Plot-wise, the movie is shot almost entirely from the perspective of Milena (Kate Cheel), a young Psychology student from Melbourne, who visits her ailing father (Daniel P. Jones) to try to mend her connection with him. Through her eyes, viewers are exposed to her father’s friends, both in and outside the town’s only pub, life down the mine shafts, and the emotional pull of the arid landscape surrounding the town. The film deals almost exclusively with the world of men, who are depicted as “running from the police, or running from relationships”, and the film projects varying versions of masculinity in a town “that is a hard place to leave, once you get to know it”. 

Initially estranged, father and daughter bond, and he doesn’t want her to leave. They manage to form a fresh relationship, but the nature of the town’s mining culture indicates the vulnerability of the bond that they have formed. This is a town of fractured relationships involving men with a past they want to forget. Most of those who choose to live in the town are looking for goals in life to pursue something they will never find. The town is one in which the mining boom is well over, hopes have been dashed, and only ageing workers remain. Milena’s father, now terminally ill, is one of those who lives in the forlorn hope of another mining “rush” that will never happen.

While Milena is visiting her father, a thief robs her father’s mining lease which establishes a minor plot line that is underdeveloped. Permeating everything, however, is the feeling of isolation which is communicated powerfully. The aridness of the landscape vividly signals the lost souls of those who live in it, and both people and landscape tangibly reflect acute loneliness.

The film suggests the town is a microcosm of Australia where workers are looking for an escape from an unwelcoming environment, and who are not likely ever to find it. The camera emphasises Milena trying to engage with a world that she finds very difficult to relate to.

The camera roams across the night sky, and then plunges deep into a mine shaft to show the contrast of seeming opposites, and the cinematography and musical soundtrack dramatically reinforce the film’s mood of isolation. The film does not have a strong plot-line, nor is it heavily scripted dramatically. Lodkina’s direction tries to stimulate viewers to imbed themselves in the isolation of outback Australia. Her style of direction gives a distinctive character to rural Australia, and she directs the film vividly and languidly to extract it.

By the nature of its imagery, the film establishes an in-depth relationship with the town and the people it depicts. The moodiness of the film is transparent. Mood is not communicated from what is said, or by the nature of the plot-line, but rather by what is seen, and sometimes heard. The director aims to create an experience that transmits a feeling of uncertainty about what will happen to the town, and the people who live in it, from now until the future.

This is a visually captivating film from a talented new director, and exposes viewers through magnificently framed photography to an instantly recognisable Australia. Lodkina’s view of the outback is different, vivid, and affecting. Everything is instantly recognisable as Australian, and her vision of this country signals a fresh and creative outlook that demands attention.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Bonsai Films Pty. Ltd.

Released November 22nd., 2018

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