It’s a sobering thought that the best new Australian movie since, um… (I don’t know…. forever!) may not have even been made on these shores. That’s if author Tim Winton’s Nimby-ish instincts had held sway. He suggested to director and star Simon Baker that the film be set in California. “To be honest, I was being selfish,” he’s quoted in the film’s notes as saying. “I was dressing it up as altruism that I didn’t want to disturb the local community, but really I just didn’t want to share the secret.” Well, phew – he was overruled, and that spot on the remote far south coast of WA near Albany, where Winton himself learnt to surf is a secret no more. It’s a lonely and awe-inspiring landscape, and absolutely the right choice – rarely have Australian locations looked better on screen.
The result is a quintessentially coming-of-age Australian film – about growing up, surfing, the 70’s counterculture and all its mystical posturing BS. And (well, this is a Tim Winton book after all) – what it means to be a man. It begins with two junior high school best mates, “Pikelet” (Samson Coulter) and aptly named “Loonie” (Ben Spence) goofing around but drawn to the coast as if some primordial natural force was pulling them into the surf. And follows them for the few years as they grow and fall under the spell of older surfer Sando (Baker), who is living as a dropout with his beautiful but emotionally scarred American wife Eva (Elizabeth Debicki) in a hippie shack near the beach.
For at least the first two thirds Eva does little but lie around with few clothes on sucking on a bong, and if you’ve seen the trailer (well worth watching, btw) you’ll know there’s a fair bit of sexual tension and an ominous sense of physical dread involved in the way things pan out. Had the film ended up to California, maybe that’s all Breath would have been. Fortunately its script stays faithful to the much-loved Aussie novel, and for the most part, it’s the ocean’s swell and its treacherous cold water currents that stand in for the boys’ tempestuous internal and external worlds as they navigate the choppy waters of growing up male. Yes, there will be a dumper – how could there not be? But this ride is just magnificent. M from May 3 at Palace Norton Street, Palace Central, Broadway, Burwood and Dendy Newtown. ★★★★1/2
Also opening this week
Actually, nothing else... But a rare lean week for new movies at least allows time to fully study the line-up for the 2018 Sydney Film Festival (swish new website here) which will be announced and online next Wednesday May 9. And if you missed last year’s official prize-winner On Body And Soul, its getting a limited release from May 10 (Sydney locations are Dendy Newtown, Opera Quays and Palace Chauvel). This is unlike anything else you’ll see at the arthouse – a spellbinding and mystifying romance set in a (and I kid you not) Hungarian abattoir. Yes, it deserved its win. Check out our verdict here.
Reviews – Russell Edwards