During the course of one day and night, seven children find themselves on difficult urban journeys in Melbourne. Katrina (Sophie Lowe) and Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) are street-smart girls, with sharp tongues and attitude. They wag school and are caught shoplifting. Having recently fled his mother's cloying love, Roo (Eamon Farren) is living on the street. But when he finds himself in a porn film he realises he's not so tough and just wants to go home. Unfairly accused of stealing his mother's money, angry Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson) attempts a real theft - with unexpected results. Brother and sister, Orton (Reef Ireland) and Stacey (Eva Lazzaro), must flee the mother they love in order to survive. And James (Wayne Blair) is the most lost of all; a young Aboriginal man with no place in the white or the black world. But how does it all look from their mothers' point of view?
Review by Louise Keller:
There's a scene towards the end of the film in which Frances O'Connor's agitated and anxious Rhonda is walking down a laneway at night surrounded by shadows. It occurred to me that our emotional journey in Ana Kokkinos' exquisitely and brutally powerful film about the indestructible but fragile thread that connects mothers and children feels just like that: a heart-wrenching walk through the darkest depths of turmoil. Similar to her previous film, Head On, Blessed caresses the extremes. Love, hate and everything in between is artistically splashed on a sizzling-hot canvass with no restrictive frame. Our hearts lurch violently the whole while and even though I felt bruised, I also felt energized and completely satisfied by the experience.
To begin with, the two-part structure of Andrew Bovell's screenplay, based on the award-winning play he penned with Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves and Patricia Cornelius (Who's Afraid of the Working Class?), is simple but brilliant. Not only does it clearly reveal the subject matter, but naturally offers different points of view. The Children and The Mothers. Both sections begin in exactly the same way with images of the characters peacefully asleep and adrift from the tumultuous emotions of their waking hours. The 'children' are in fact, angry young adults, using their instincts to survive their everyday practicalities and inner demons. Foul language, insolence, shop-lifting, stealing and exploited sexual fantasies are some of the results. Although we have already met The Mothers through the eyes of the children, we see them in a new light and with greater depth, as the point of view changes. Although the characters are not connected, there is a point at which their stories intersect or draw a parallel. The day also ends differently to expectations.
The entire production is superb, beginning with Kokkinos' hard-wired, intuitive direction. Geoff Burton's cinematography is gritty like the content of the story-lines and Jill Bilcock's seamless editing helps in the potency of the cocktail. Cezary Skubiszewski's haunting music theme feels like a wave that impacts as it washes over us.
O'Connor gets top billing and rightly so. Her performance as the fertile Rhonda, who is barren in so many ways, is something special. In one key scene, she lets fly a scream so potent that it will stay with me for a long time. But every single performance has merit. The luminous Deborra-Lee Furness as the affection-deprived nurse, Miranda Otto as titan-haired Bianca who waits for Lady Luck, Victoria Haralabidou as the religious seamstress who overlooks one child for another. William McInnes cannot do a thing wrong and here his always-wrong husband makes someone happy 'because he can.' The young cast is outstanding too: there is not one wrong note anywhere. I especially like Anastasia Baboussouras and Sophie Lowe as the precocious schoolgirls and Eamon Farren is impressive as Roo. Harrison Gilbertson has great appeal as the boy who gets more than he expects, when the tables are turned during a break-in (Monica Maughan, haunting). It is in this powerful scene that we are told that mothers have no choice - when it comes to love.
There is so much more that can be said about this achingly potent film. Including Rhonda's revelation from which the title comes. Producer Al Clark knows how to put a project together and this one vibrates with heart, passion and truth.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Blessed with cinematic ambition, Ana Kokkinos and her writing collaborators have forged a striking film out of pain and dysfunction, yet managing to pull out a serene sense of closure in the final moments. Outstanding performances are the film's own blessing, with a cast comprising seasoned actors like Monica Maughan, William McInnes, Deborra-Lee Furness, Francis O'Connor and Miranda Otto working alongside young newcomers, who deliver searing characterisations that haunt you.
The title refers to the description that Francis O'Connor's Rhonda uses about her children; they're her blessings, despite the pain they cause. That just about sums up the mothers' point of view, but the filmmakers give us considerably more detail and more character, in a beautifully observed screenplay. O'Connor emerges as the film's emotional driver in a gritty and brittle characterisation in which Rhonda is the single mother with serial-boyfriend lifestyle, tattoos and attitude, and social services on her doorstep. Through the two of her three children who we meet, Orton (Reef Ireland) and Stacey (Eva Lazzaro), we see a broken home in which Orton and Stacey are collateral damage. But to the script's credit, Rhonda remains a loving mother, even if she can't do the job well. Hence the third child's absence at a foster home.
The stories intersect in subtle ways, and the intercutting structure - first between the youngsters, later between the mothers - and the resultant mosaic is layered with detail. The daily ordinariness of these lives is thrown into sharp relief by the most mundane routines and decisions; that many lead to high drama is one of the film's points. A small decision in the morning can have a big result by night ... But the script is not a conventional story; more like slices of a loaf of bread, rather than a complete loaf with a crusty slice at top and tail.
These working class characters struggle on a daily basis, limping from one daily crisis to the next; it's inevitable, then, that death is ever present and plays such a crucial role in their lives - but not just in a negative sense. Crafted by a team of Australia's finest filmmakers, like cinematographer Geoff Burton, composer Cezary Skubiszewski, editor Jill Bilcock and production designer Simon McCutcheon, Blessed is a serious work of cinema that challenges and confronts us, touching on a myriad issues, never judging its characters and endlessly engaging with its profound sense of humanity.
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ANA KOKKINOS INTERVIEW - AUDIO Interview by Andrew L. Urban
CAST: Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-Lee Furness, Victoria Haralabidou, William McInnes, Monica Maughan, Wayne Blair, Tasma Walton, Sophie Lowe, Anastasia Baboussouras, Eamon Farren, Harrison Gilbertson, Reef Ireland, Eva Lazzaro
PRODUCER: Al Clark
DIRECTOR: Ana Kokkinos
SCRIPT: Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius, Christos Tsiolkas (based on their play Who's Afraid of the Working Class?)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoff Burton ACS
EDITOR: Jill Bilcock, ACE, ASE
MUSIC: Cezary Skubiszewski
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon McCutcheon
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 10, 2009