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In 1962, a prepubescent boy in rural Australia watches painfully as his best friend and first love, an older girl, blossoms into womanhood and falls for a thuggish rugby player, setting off a chain of events that irreversibly changes the lives of everyone involved.Written by
The talented John Duigan (perhaps best known for directing WIDE SARGASSO SEA (1993), based on the novel by Jean Rhys) wrote and directed this wonderful film about kids growing up in New South Wales, Australia, in 1962. Four years later, with the same boy in the lead, Duigan directed its sequel, FLIRTING (1991). The film is so honest, straightforward, and heart-rending, that it is a model of what an unpretentious film about real people should be. The film was made in the small town of Braidwood, which apart from its cinema looks like something from 1862 rather than 1962, so things clearly didn't change much in those days in the area they call the 'Tableland'. The film would not have worked if the two leads had not been so perfect. Seventeen year-old Loene Carmen is so fresh and real as the girl Freya Olson, but also so convincingly sad and tragic in the light of the events which ensue. The kids in this film just don't seem to be acting. We can almost believe that John Duigan sneaked into the little town with an invisible camera and recorded all of this really happening. The boy Danny is played by Noah Taylor. The honesty and integrity of his performance were the key to its success. He languishes with hopeless love as an onlooker to the tragic first romance of his childhood friend, Freya, who being older than him is 'out of his league' romantically. The pain of first love, especially unrequited first love, is intensely conveyed. There is also the implicit undercurrent that Freya may be his own half-sister, with neither of them realizing it, as there is a subplot about the dead mother of Freya, Sarah Amery, who died having her at the age of only 17, and the father may well have been Danny's own. But this is all the invisible 'grownup background' to the story of the kids, who are in the foreground of this tale. Ben Mendelsohn plays an older boy with a maniacal laugh who steals Freya's heart but who turns out to be mentally unbalanced, presumably with incipient schizophrenic. Things turn out badly. There are wonderful shots of the wild Australia, and the kids run around in the fields and on the hills with the abandon of a youth before everything became spoiled by cell phones, emails, and Facebook. Everyone in those days was outdoors all the time, not hunched over a computer. People actually looked at one another as they passed in the street, and were not peering into their Blackberrys or staring into space with a piece of metal stuck in their ear like a transplant. This film is an ode to real life, in a world which has forgotten what real life is. It is one of the masterpieces of the high tide of Australian cinema back in those days before the tide broke.
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