In a contemporary urban Australian high school three months before year's end, a terrible incident is discovered behind the locked door of a toilet. It is the culmination of a story about half a dozen of the students who are each dealing with deeply troubling personal issues, ranging from unwanted pregnancy to a medical condition that causes embarrassing pants wetting to parental disapproval to sexuality issues. Feeling alone and unsupported, they each try to deal with their demons as best they can - but not all of them succeed.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's nothing new about teenage angst, but there's plenty new in the way first time director Murali K. Thalluri treats the subject in 2:37. It's a stunning debut, in which the film's structure as it portrays the internal world of troubled teens is handled with as much complexity as the topic. Circular in structure, dipping back in time from different perspectives like a rewind button, the film's narrative is coloured (albeit in black and white) by documentary-style insights from each of the main players. It is about their hopes and dreams that they confide; it is as though they are sharing their inner most thoughts with a secret friend.
'There's some stuff you can't share,' confides Melody, the pretty blonde who loves kids and animals. 'When serious stuff happens, you are so alone.' There is plenty that happens in this drama, although much of it is internal. We meet six students in their daily school life, yet it is the intimacies they confide that are the most revealing. Each is vastly different from the other, yet there is one thing they all have in common. Something they are hiding. The themes are varied, including homosexuality, incest, fidelity, self-image and medical compromise. Tough topics, and Thalluri involves us in the plights of each of the teens. Superb performances from the entire ensemble cast, with special mention to Teresa Palmer's Melody and her onscreen sibling Marcus (Frank Sweet), who aspires to be like his dad.
The first indicator is the tone of the film's music. Rather than upbeat or rhythmic music, the mood is subdued, pensive and reflective. Classical music offers awkward pauses, much like the emotional life of the six students in whose life we become involved. The shifts in time keep us on the edge of our seat, as we are never sure when, in the ticking of the day's clock, the things we are seeing on screen are actually happening. Tense and intriguing, the internal heart of the film pumps its full head of steam ahead of the action. It's a deliberate and strong human drama that reminds us of life's complexities, and that ultimately we are always alone to face them.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you stay till the end credits, you'll notice in the extensive thank you list the name of Gus Van Sant; I noticed the name because the film reminds me of Van Sant's Elephant (2003), also set in a high school and also dealing with deep seated problems - albeit the two films take different tacks and have different stories. But it wasn't just the theme that was reminiscent, it was the use of multi-angle versions of the intersections of the characters as they go about their (tragic) day. The device effectively transfers our point of view of a particular exchange or meeting, and unites the characters in time and place for us most effectively.
But that's not the most remarkable aspect of this newcomer's film: Murali K. Thalluri's greatest accomplishment is getting such powerful and gut wrenching performances from his young cast, and telling the story with a cinematic sense. For example, the film begins with an incident that he shows with Hitchcockian reserve. We never see what the characters see at the scene, but we certainly can imagine something. From that moment on, we are in constant tension wanting to know who was at the centre of that incident, which takes place at the end of the story, so the rest is in flashback.
This keeps the tension alive, not that it would sag without it, since the stories of the half dozen students who we meet are all drenched in conflict and pain. Personal demons roar their anger and the sum of these personal insights is a high school full of youngsters who feel alone and unsupported - even in their neediest hour.
Other than a few smudged plot issues, the film plays with great pace, energy and is deeply moving as it reveals further aspects about the main characters in short excerpts from some interview process (shot in black and white) scattered through the forward story line, which we only come to understand near the end. The film was selected for screening at Cannes 2006 in Un Certain Regard - a considerable compliment.
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MURALI K. THALLURI INTERVIEW
CAST: Teresa Palmer, Joel Mackenzie, Frank Sweet, Clementine Mellor, Charles Baird, Sam Harris, Marni Spillane, Sarah Hudson, Chris Olver, Xavier Samuel, Gary Sweet, Daniel Whyte
PRODUCER: Nick Matthews, Kent Smith, Murali K. Thalluri
DIRECTOR: Murali K. Thalluri
SCRIPT: Murali K. Thalluri
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nick Matthews
EDITOR: Nick Matthews, Murali K. Tharulli, Dale Roberts
MUSIC: Mark Tschantz
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 17, 2006
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