Running Time: 103 mins
Rated: MA 15+.
Stephanie (Lung) is considered a miracle child. She was delivered out of a car wreck as her mother lay dying from the injuries sustained in the accident that killed her and Steph's father. Her mother's best friend Jude (McKenzie) adopted Stephanie as a baby and has been a faithful but overly protective mother ever since. At 18 Steph is starting to stand on her own two feet. It is not easy for her. She has severe learning difficulties, and can still not read. She gets a job with Jude at the local peach cannery in Swan Hill. She becomes sexually aware. On her 18th birthday her grandfather gives her mother's diary. As she discovers her mother's story, she realises the importance Jude and her then boyfriend Alan Taylor (Weaving) played in her parent's lives. Alan is now her boss at work. In a desire to connect with her past she begins an affair with Alan.
In certain circles a few years ago rebirthing was very popular. It underlined that the circumstances of our birth had an influence on our development. I could not imagine a worse start in life then being delivered from a dying mother at the scene of a car accident. No wonder Stephanie has had some troubles. Peaches is a film about recovering the past so as to understand the present.
Set against a background of job losses, the decline of rural towns and the imploding trade union movement, Peaches has plenty to say on several fronts. Maybe too much. It's a busy script.
What is outstanding are the performances. Hugo Weaving, Jacqueline McKenzie, Emma Lung and Matt Le Nevez showcase the abundance of talent within the Australian acting community. Only one gripe, and with all due respect to factory workers in rural country towns, this film, set in Swan Hill, has characters (especially Jude and Alan) who have unusually rounded vowels for people of the Australian bush, they speak in very complex sentences and have a formidable vocabulary at their disposal. All possible, and to be admired, but it was a distraction from Craig Monahan's otherwise excellent direction.
Peaches is beautifully shot, and David Hirschfelder's music score is superb.
What many Catholic viewers will not care for is the number and style of the sexual encounters between an 18 years old innocent and her 42 year old married boss, especially when we know that Alan was for the first year or so of Steph's life Jude's partner and her surrogate father. Whatever of the theme of Steph recreating history, this worrying suggestion of incest and work place harassment highlights how dysfunctional the relationships are between the three main players. Life as a factory worker in Swan Hill ain't peaches.
The film is bookended by references to the blackspot on the road where Stephanie's parents were killed. They failed to successfully take the bend. Blackspot signs tell us to slow down, learn from other's experience in the same situation and negotiate difficult situations with great care. That's what the imparting of Christian values from one generation to the next is all about. Peaches leaves us hoping that even though Stephanie was headed down a dead end, she might just made a turn for the better in the journey of life.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.