MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX
When Natalie (Sacha Horler) collapses one August day and undergoes emergency surgery for an aneurysm, her husband Ross (Matt Day), their two children Louis (Jonathan Segat) and Ruby (Portia Bradley) face an uncertain future. Once back home, Natalie's anxieties include paying their mortgage, as Ross faces the possibility of retrenchment, avoiding stress - and that includes sex. Natalie gets a part time job and joins a church choir led by Margaret (Maude Davey) - all the while trying to make the best of Christmas and Easter for the kids. The dangers of stress - and sex - lurk around them. Almost a year later Natalie has another blinding headache and goes for a brain scan. Terrified she's used up all her luck, and having decided she doesn't believe in God so she might go to hell, it all hangs in the balance. As does her sex life.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
My Year Without Sex is 96 minutes without sex, in case you are expecting the title to be ironic or an improbable joke. The story is not so much about sex nor even about its absence, but about the haphazard nature of fate, and the impact of every event on our lives. Sarah Watt showed her insight and filmmaking talent with her debut, Look Both Ways, which explored similar themes; death was always a shadow, illness a constant presence. Here, an ordinary suburban family is blighted by a sudden medical emergency that could have been catastrophic: it isn't, but it still has a big impact, coming as these things do, on top of circumstances already crowded with stressful elements.
The energy required to simply care for two youngsters, the money required to pay the mortgage and the Christmas presents, the patience needed with each other in trying times, the courage needed to face an uncertain future, the capacity to cope with a holiday car crash, and the inner wisdom to somehow absorb the notion of faith in God simply because of a meeting with a charismatic minister (Maude Davey) - are all things these characters need.
As with Look Both Ways, Watts devises a chaptered approach, using graphic illustrations to announce each month and give it some sexually appropriate label, eg missionary position, or doggy style. The episodic nature of the storytelling wouldn't matter but for the loss of tension; scenes are often resolved off screen, and the characters are living their lives in a random sequence - just like real life, but without the necessary drama that storytelling requires.
Sacha Horler gives an astonishing performance as Natalie; I wouldn't be surprised to hear she really underwent the surgery for the sake of the film. Matt Day, an all too underused actor, has a tough job as Ross, a bit of a loser, uncertain of his domain as husband and father, insecure at work and a fish out of water on the footy field, where his attempts as assistant coach are lame. Both children Louis (Jonathan Segat) and Ruby (Portia Bradley) are excellent, as is Davey in an entertaining and memorable role as a woman of the church who can't understand why God has given here 'these feelings' ... and not helped her use them.
Sprinkled with such real characters and a few observations (I like the one about the biggest taxpayers list should replace the published rich lists), the film has intermittent traction, but it lacks the grip of a strong story. We get to care for the characters, but would like to have understood them better, got to know them better. Too many scenes are mere snapshots that don't allow the characters to fully flower before us - with the exception of Natalie.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's about faith and the lack of it, winning and losing, caring and sharing and just the less than simple art of surviving in a chaotic world. Sarah Watt's follow up to Look Both Ways is a gem of a film: a wonderfully observed snapshot that canvasses the emotional pulse of a family in the suburbs. It's the slant with which Watt affectionately embraces her characters that make it so engaging; humour abounds everywhere as fate, irony, circumstances and human nature conspire to fill life's cup with hiccups galore. As catastrophes of differing size and intensity thunder down on the lives of Ross, Natalie and their kids Louis and Ruby, we are there for the fallout, watching the ripples. Nothing much happens - except for an aneurysm, a car crash, a lost football game, an absent tooth fairy, hair nits, a blown fuse, a dabble with faith and a year without sex.
There is nothing extraordinary about the central family into whose lives Watt takes us. Matt Day's Ross is a decent hard-working bloke who is a bit of a plodder. Natalie (Sacha Horler)'s medical emergency leaves her re-evaluating her life and everyday problems now seem insurmountable. The clutter in the house transfers to Ross and Natalie's state of mind as they struggle to manage work, relationship, family, friends and pets. Day has great screen presence (he inadvertently looks like a little boy lost) and Horler transmits vulnerability intuitively. Jonathan Segat's 12 year old football crazy Louis and Portia Bradley's outspoken 8 year old Ruby are great assets; their actions and reactions make every situation vividly real, like the scene when Ruby asks if she can take her mother to Show and Tell, after Natalie comes out of hospital with partly shaved head and prominent bruises.
Watt is a natural storyteller and filmmaker, excelling at conveying much with little action or dialogue. Life plays out from different perspectives and we empathise. Will Ross succumb to the attractive girl at work? Will Natalie find solace in religion? Will the influence of Margaret (Maude Davey) impact on her choices ('Most converts come from a pretty low base')? What of Puffy Brains, the goldfish and Bubble Head, the dog? And will the Tooth Fairy ever come? It's the humour and Watt's pragmatic approach that makes this such a warm and enjoyable excursion. As for the sex (or lack of it), let me just say that there is a lot to be said for anticipation.
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SARAH WATT INTERVIEW
MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX (M)
CAST: Sacha Horler, Matt Day, Jonathan Segat, Portia Bradley, Maude Davey, Nick Farnell, Christine Moffat, Brett Robson, Sonya Suares
PRODUCER: Bridget Ikin
DIRECTOR: Sarah Watt
SCRIPT: Sarah Watt
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Graeme Wood
EDITOR: Denise Haratzis
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon McCutcheon
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Footprint Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 28, 2009
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