Jack Flange (Alex O'Lachlan) has left Sydney and taken a job with down to earth Hawksbury River oyster farmer Brownie (David Field) and his crusty dad Seamus (Jim Norton) so he can be closer to his sister Nikki (Claudia Harrison) who's recovering after a car accident at a nearby hospital. Brownie's wife Trish (Kerry Armstrong) has temporarily moved out and is working for a competing oyster farmer, a cause of friction. In a desperate (and bizarre) attempt to pay off the medical bills, Jack steals the Fish Markets takings and posts the cash in an express satchel to himself, but the package is lost. Meanwhile, Jack has met the attractive Pearl (Diana Glen) and is getting to know her, along with other locals including Vietnam Vet Skippy (Jack Thompson) who gives him curt advice about love and revenge. When it's time for Nikki to transfer to the bigger hospital at Gosford, Jack has to decide whether to stay on the river - and maybe with Pearl - or head off again.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perhaps the most impressive and haunting element of Oyster Farmer is its perfectly captured mood of an Australian ethos no longer found in any city. From the economically written but complex characters who live and work on the Hawksbury River, physically up the road from Sydney but socially in a different world, to Alun Bollinger's wonderful cinematography, the film reminds us of how the Australian character is forged by circumstance and attitude.
Young Alex O'Lachlan's Jack Flange represents the city and we see the locals through his eyes - sometimes with quite inaccurate assumptions. He is well meaning but immature and O'Lachlan is excellent in his first leading role, handling a fairly tricky characterisation with confidence.
Older pros like David Field and Kerry Armstrong - not to mention Jack Thompson - are given the opportunity to show their talents to best advantage with an intelligent script that gives them the basis and the scope to fill the characters. And in this case, the friction between Brownie and Trish that has set them apart adds a dynamic riff, or undercurrent, to the film that is more than a mere subplot.
Diana Glen and Claudia Harrison are excellent as love interest and sister respectively, creating their characters with a minimalism that fits perfectly in this ensemble. As Slug, the local sewerage contractor and Pearl's biological father, Alan Cinis is terrific in a challenging but crucial support role which calls for skilful balance between dynamism and restraint.
The film isn't powered so much by a strong narrative line, but by the combination of character and circumstance - and of course its themes: the flawed hero, the outsider, the Australian culture & community, the environment and the force that glues each to the other - love, of one kind or another.
Supported by Stephen Warbeck's creative and inventive score, with its occasional echoes of Irish motifs and neat guitar chords, Oyster Farmer is a superbly made film, showing Anna Reeves natural cinematic talents. It also boasts possibly the best directed sex scene in an Australian film.
Review by Louise Keller:
A thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy drama about a small community whose livelihood relies on the precious natural phenomenon of the oyster, Oyster Farmer is engaging, revealing and funny all at once. It's a remarkably assured debut for writer/director Anna Reeves, whose characters have enough grit to turn an oyster into a pearl. The Hawkesbury River locations are breathtakingly beautiful - sheer natural beauty of the maze of waterways surrounded by remote bushland and mangroves - wonderfully shown off by Alun Bollinger's cinematography.
The characters are true blue Aussies who call a spade a spade, and do so with the kind of colourful lingo ('shut your cakehole') that will baffle the uninitiated. All the locals have equally descriptive names - from Brownie to Mumbles, Pearl, Slug and Skippy. The best thing about the film is the mood that lingers and the way we are drawn to the characters and their individual predicaments. It's as though we have sneaked into the back of one of the boats that are the sole method of transportation, and dip into their lives. Performances are all excellent, and Reeves' well-written script ensures characters that are both complex and multi-layered. Stephen Warbeck's glorious score just seems to capture the spirit of these hybrid Irish/Australian settlers who look much tougher than they are.
End of the world? Or a little corner of heaven? Life is pretty tough for the oyster farmer, and Brownie (David Field) is a real battler. It doesn't take much to lose a whole batch of oysters; they can spawn too early, prompted by the teensiest disturbance. Brownie is pretty sensitive too; his missus Trish (Kerry Armstrong) has left him, and to make matters worse, is making her own way in this tough world where men rule. She even has a sixth sense when it comes to oysters. Brownie's Irish Dad Mumbles (Jim Norton) is a funny old codger. He loves the life on the river and thrives on his conflict-filled relationship with Slug (Alan Cinis), the local sewerage collector. Skippy (Jack Thompson) is a Vietnamese vet paranoid about his privacy, who hangs around with other war vets, playing cards, board games and drinking beer. Jack (Alex O'Laughlan) is a newcomer - Brownie gives him a job 'because he was the only one who answered the ad'. And then Jack meets Pearl (Diana Glenn), Slug's rebellious daughter, who has a penchant for collecting expensive shoes.
There's a robbery, a dog race, an oyster show and a dog-napping. And that's just for starters. There's sex on a rickety pier, and the rekindling of a relationship that's foundering involving an old bathtub and a bundle of marbles. Renovations and relatives are the two reasons for marriage breakdowns, says Trish. And there's a new definition for love - 'it's a wretched business: like pissing against an electric fence.'
Oyster Farmer is the best Australian film of the year.
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ANNA REEVES INTERVIEW
OYSTER FARMER (MA)
CAST: Kerry Armstrong, David Field, Alex O'Lachlan, Diana Glen, Jack Thompson, Claudia Harrison, Jim Norton
PRODUCER: Piers Tempest, Anthony Buckley
DIRECTOR: Anna Reeves
SCRIPT: Anna Reeves
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alun Bollinger
EDITOR: Janie Trevill, Peter Beston
MUSIC: Stephen Warbeck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 8, 2006