Hotel Coolgardie could be the most shocking film about Australia ever made
This startling and powerfully provocative doco from Pete Gleeson screened at Sydney Film Festival last year. It didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved then, though is at last getting a welcome local general release at Dendy Newtown. It tells the story of two Finnish girls who are sent to work in a pub in remote WA. Young female backpackers are regularly given short-term deployments to isolated outback mining-town pubs like this one – the ludicrously named Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie, where the local workers await their arrival as “fresh meat.” The two young Europeans, Stephie and Lina, are totally unprepared for what they find – sleazy slobbering drunks, relentless sexual advances, an obnoxious bullying boss, mind-numbing loneliness and spirit-destroying boredom. But they’re both good sports, and try to make the best of it, playing along with some of the vaguely threatening blokes, even (yikes!) going on a “camping” trip with some. With the camera always present, there’s lots of queasy moments where you do wonder about the ethics of this sort of “fly-on-the-wall’ filmmaking. Clearly, in some instances you get the feeling that the only thing preventing violence is the presence of a camera. At a SFF Q&A Gleeson insisted he would “never have let the girls get hurt.” But admitted wondering, “Now what sort of film would that have made?” As it is, the ending is shocking enough.
Hotel Coolgardie is an ugly film and it doesn’t make for easy watching. Pretty well all the men depicted (save one older one), who incredibly did sign permissions for what we see on screen, are pathetic. They make a mockery of Australia’s self-image as a nation of proud, self-reliant larrikins. One thing for sure, no funding for this came from Tourism Australia – or if it did, I bet they asked for their money back.
MA15+ from June 22 at Dendy Cinemas Newtown ★★★★
Trailer and screening times here
Review – Russell Edwards