The lift is crowded as three burly men surround Harry and
Kate; Kate, leaning against Harry's right shoulder, is pale,
dishevelled, with an absent look in her eyes, while Harry seems
agitated, anxious. The camera pans across the men, finds the
strange expression on Kate's face, gently explores it, moves on
to Harry, as the lift stops.
Outside, at the exit door, grips are erecting a steel mesh
fence for the next scene, in which Harry and Kate make a dash for
it, to escape the institution where they feel trapped, isolated,
alienated, alone, frightened, inexplicable...
"It's a character
driven, intimate story about two people on the periphery of
The location is a disused Melbourne hospital, where Michael
Rymer is making his first feature, Angel Baby, a love story about
"It's a character driven, intimate story about two people
on the periphery of society," says Rymer during a lunch
break, "with little hope of getting normal love, or
companionship, family - then they fall in love, and it gives them
a reason to struggle and to go for more."
John Lynch (Cal, The Name of the Father) and Jacqueline
McKenzie (Romper Stomper, This Won't Hurt a Bit, Traps) star as
the unusual lovers, both highly regarded actors with a track
record of first class performances.
"The characters came
first... I found them appealing and intriguing."
(The supporting cast also includes some of Australia's well
known names, like Colin Friels, Deborra-Lee Furness, Robyn Nevin
and David Argue.)
"The characters came first," says Rymer, "and I
found them appealing and intriguing. At some point, these two
quirky characters, these extremely strange people...somehow it
occurred to me they might be described as mentally ill. They read
signs in things, watched tv game shows for messages from some
After spending four months attending an informal day care
centre for the mentally ill, Rymer had a pretty good (and very
compassionate) picture of their daily lives, which he describes
as atrocious. He says the film, while accurate, can not, does
not, approximate the full extent of how awful are the lives of
schizophrenics. "It's a cleaned up version...what they have
to go through is messy, ugly and half the challenge [of making
the film] is to make it watchable.
"But the script is not about crazy people," he says
adamantly. "If I'd set out to make a film about
schizophrenics, it would have been more about the symptoms than
about the people."
"I learnt more in
those two years than in five years at film school." on US Scholarship
The young Melbourne-born film maker studied at University of
Southern California, and won the Warner Communications
Scholarship for Directing. But it was a two year acting course in
1986 that he feels was crucial: "That process taught me to
write - you learn what drama is. I learnt more in those two years
than in five years at film school."
The script had been enthusiastically handled by several
producers when Rymer's friend, young producer Jonathan Shteinman
took it to the more experienced Tim White (Malcolm, Spotswood,
Celia, Death in Brunswick). "The script had been highly
spoken of, and had great appeal for top actors," White says.
Shteinman and White "persevered" with the notion of
Rymer directing his script, despite "the usual problems of
trying to finance a first time director." (And having to buy
out the development costs of the previous producers.)
"It connected with me
because it had big emotion - an intensity I was drawn
to," Producer Tim
"It connected with me because it had big emotion - an
intensity I was drawn to," White explains. "It's
contemporary, bold and aimed at young adult audiences - plus it
has two great central characters."
The script was lodged with the Film Fund, which is operated by
the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) and requires no pre-sales to
trigger full funding. Both the FFC and the Australian Film
Commission were "very encouraging" says Shteinman: the
latter even provided assistance for script editing by noted
writer Louis Nowra.
Cinematographer Ellery Ryan (Death in Brunswick, Spotswood) is
using high speed stock, and "with Michael Rymer's prompting
we've done 'things' - like using overt camera angles to comment
on the action, a bit of hand held and some overcranking (slow
"He wants audiences to
leave "catharsised, emotionally charged and
For Rymer, the film is both enormous fun and a dream come
true: "I've got an amazing crew; state of the art
professionals, and we're doing some amazing shots." He wants
audiences to leave "catharsised, emotionally charged and
drained. I used to feel that as a kid when I went to the movies,
but I haven't felt it much lately, except after Schindler's