5 Australian movies you MUST know!
In the broadly understood English-language cinema, the position of Australian productions corresponds to the geographical location – many works by local filmmakers have never left the antipodes of world cinematography. And yet, in the rich achievements of this country there are plenty of valuable titles.
Mad Max (1979), dir. George Miller
It’s not that George Miller’s feature debut is one of Australia’s most famous and iconic films – it’s just one of the best and most expressive. Today, the iconography from the other parts of the series is more recognizable in the world, but as a film work, the ascetic, psychedelic story of how Max Rockatansky became “Mad Max” offers much more. The debut director and then little-known actor Mel Gibson also achieved a considerable box office success – Mad Max gathered $100 million (USD) worldwide on a budget of only $400,000 (AUD). Without a doubt, it can be said that if it wasn’t for Miller’s film and the subsequent sequels, the post-apocalyptic cinema trend would look completely different today.
Animal Kingdom (2010), dir. David Michôd
Another feature-length debut from the now acclaimed Australian director. David Michôd is certainly not in the same league as George Miller, nor does he have such a classic as Mad Max, but he is an extremely interesting creator. His Animal Kingdom is the story of teenage Joshua (James Frecheville), who, after the death of his mother, finds himself under the wing of his grandmother (Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver), who runs a wide-ranging criminal activity with his sons. Joshua is quickly “recruited” by his uncles (Ben Mendelsohn and Sullivan Stapleton), but is unsure if he wants to follow the path of crime, which automatically makes him an enemy of the family. Animal Kingdom is an excellent thriller that keeps you in suspense throughout the screening – in 2010 there were few films better than Michôd’s debut, and in the 21st century Australian cinema rarely reached a higher level.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), dir. Peter Weir
The work of Peter Weir, Australia’s most respected director, is a perfect example of unspeakable horror cinema. There are no monsters or murderers here, but there is a subcutaneous fear that infects the viewers as well. The dreamlike Picnic at Hanging Rock is also one of the best film metaphors of sexual initiation and entering adulthood. There are few films that have turned out to be better than their literary prototype, but Weir’s work certainly belongs to this group. Interestingly, Picnic… did not win the AACTA award, the Australian equivalent of the Oscars – it lost to Fred Schepisi’s The Devil’s Playground in both the Best Film and Best Director categories. Whether this was the right verdict is very clear from the fact that few people remember Schepisi’s work today, and Picnic at Hanging Rock is today an absolute classic not only of Australian cinema, but also of the world.
'Breaker' Morant (1980), dir. Bruce Beresford
Known from the original version of The Wicker Man, Edward Woodward plays the title character, Harry “Breaker” Morant, who was one of the first defendants in the history of British military courts. The film is set during the Second Boer War (1899–1902) in South Africa, where the British Empire fought against the Boer republics. After the war ended in a British victory, Lieutenant Morant and two other officers were put on trial for killing several Boer prisoners and a German missionary, even though they were only following orders from their commanders. Bruce Beresford’s film tells the story of this morally ambiguous show trial that the British organized for better PR. An unusual courthouse cinema with military provenance, with excellent drama and acting, telling a lot about the complicated and bumpy history of the British Empire.
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), dir. Fred Schepisi
Australia is a country with a unique ethnic structure – the indigenous Aboriginal people make up more than 3 percent of the population, and their identity is still exceptionally strong. The position of Aborigines in the social hierarchy can be compared to the situation of Indians or African Americans in the USA, which was often reflected in the cinema. A few years ago, the excellent Sweet Country was shown in Venice, but one of the first films to feature an Aboriginal protagonist in such a decisive way was The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Fred Schepisi’s film is actually the Australian prototype of Joker – the title character falls into a spiral of crime as a result of social contempt and suppression. A powerful, brutally realistic cinema that leaves the viewer torn between sympathy for the protagonist and disgust for his misdeeds.