This year, in 1992 I remember sitting in a theatre with my dad when I was eight years old watching a screening of a little film called Strictly Ballroom (1992). The story line, originality, colour and music struck a cord deep within my psyche but the thing I remember the most about it was how uniquely Australian it made me feel – and it’s a feeling I have never, ever forgotten.
Having recently screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), and shot in the tiny rural opal mining town of Lighting Ridge, New South Wales, Strange Colours is another uniquely Australian film that premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival to wide acclaim.
Feeling lost in her own life, Milena (Kate Cheel) travels to this town to visit her estranged father as he is gravely ill and she hopes to repair the relationship before it’s too late.
Directed and co-written by Alena Lodkina in her promising feature film debut, Strange Colours has been shot superbly by cinematographer Michael Latham (Ukraine is Not a Brothel, Casting JonBennet, The Island of the Hungry Ghosts). With a minuscule budget of less than $250,000, the film vastly captures the Australian outback – its isolation and ruggedness in full force. The performances also are universally accomplished. Daniel P. Jones in particular as Melina’s father Max is astoundingly good.
Whilst undoubtedly well-made and brimming with brooding atmosphere, narrative wise, not a lot happens in this film. The strained relationship between Milena and Max is one that while intriguing, is not explained on a deep enough level. Strange Colours simplicity and sparseness are without doubt intentional (as it mimics the way these miners live day to day) but unfortunately the film’s emotional impact and its commercial appeal are hindered as a result.
There is no doubt that Strange Colours and Strictly Ballroom share something in that they both started off with minuscule budgets and significant festival buzz. The difference between them though is story line and that old adage of how they make the viewer feel.
Films like Muriel’s Wedding (1994), Japanese Story (2003), Wolf Creek (2005) and Animal Kingdom (2010) resonated with audiences because they emotionally affected them. For me, Strange Colours failed to do this and whilst many people argue that the glory days of Australian cinema are well and truly over, with the right script, filmmakers like Alena Lodkina and Michael Latham have extremely exciting futures ahead.
Dash Wilson is a film-lover based in Brisbane and resident Film Reviewer for Australian Cinematographer Magazine.