Lena (Dannielle Hall) has an absent Irish father she longs to see and an Aboriginal mother she finds disgusting. When she breaks away, she meets up with petty crim Vaughn (Damien Pitt) who’s just escaped from low security prison to reluctantly visit his dying mother. Blonde and light-skinned, Lena is remains in denial about her Aboriginal heritage; Vaughn is an angry young man with a grudge against all whites. An uneasy relationship begins to form as they hit the road heading to Sydney, taking them on a journey that’s as emotional as it is physical, as revealing as it is desperate.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This already applauded and awarded film (Berlin Film Festival, February 2002) seems to plumb the depths of Ivan Sen’s soul – both as an individual and as an Australian. It echoes with his 1998 short, Tears, but this is a much fuller, more dramatically expanded visit to the themes of identity and purpose. Sen, “never having been certain of what I was setting out to achieve with Beneath Clouds,” has used cinema to put on screen the collective subconscious – no, a part of the collective subconscious – of both black and white Australia. That’s perhaps too crude a way of putting something as ethereal and intangible as the film’s subject. It is perhaps that complexity of response in the audience that Sen pre-empts with his own uncertainty, but the film is a fabulous debut feature for this gifted filmmaker, who will, I am certain, very soon make a film that will not only get rave reviews and artistic accolades, but that will also rock into the mainstream via multiplexes. He has a natural ability to talk ‘cinema’ to his audiences, and a powerful vocabulary that often works without dialogue. Dannielle Hall and Damien Pitt – two youngsters he picked up off the streets of small rural NSW towns – deliver supercharged performances full of stillness that hides torment and a quest that is almost palpable. The many small supporting roles are faultlessly filled, too; go see for yourself.
Review by Jake Wilson:
If you go by Ivan Sen’s choice of subject-matter, he’s an earnest and fairly conventional social realist. Still, he has the kind of technical fluency that may be the hallmark of a new generation of Australian filmmakers – weaned on commercials and music videos, using the rhythmic resources of editing, music and sound design to get an almost physical response from an audience. The opening scene of Beneath Clouds practically suggests a spaghetti Western: tight, tense close-ups of faces, alternating with wide shots that reduce the characters to stick figures on the horizon. Sen is very much a montage director, in that he tends to construct a scene as a succession of highlighted moments and gestures (a truck pulls up; a character turns) each given its own shape and weight. In the long run the resulting lack of fluidity has its drawbacks: each line of dialogue becomes a separate event, accentuating the often flat vocal delivery of the non-professional cast. Yet undeniably Sen does bring a new sort of realism to Australian filmmaking, with a special confidence in handling indigenous and rural speech patterns; especially in group scenes, the down-to-earth profanity of the dialogue works as an effective counterweight to the highflown visual rhetoric. Sen is not the director to shy away from heavy message-making or gimmicky symbols (Vaughn lighting a fire using pages torn from the Bible) but at best his commitment to simple, direct images brings him close to silent-movie poetry, as in the brief, mysterious scene where Lena follows Vaughn through the green depths of a corn-field and suddenly pauses, transfixed by a black cat. If at moments there's a degree of strained mannerism in the style, this can probably be blamed on the lack of variety in the script: there are only so many ways you can film two people walking along the side of a road, and all the stylistic flourishes in the world can't disguise this monotony. Displaying about equal amounts of naiveté, passion and talent, Beneath Clouds establishes Sen as a filmmaker of considerable potential, though it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll get the chance to realise that potential in Australia.
Email this article
Andrew L. Urban interviews
BENEATH CLOUDS (M)
CAST: Dannielle Hall, Damian Pitt
PRODUCER: Teresa-Jayne Hanlon
DIRECTOR: Ivan Sen
SCRIPT: Ivan Sen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Allan Collins
EDITOR: Karen Johnson
MUSIC: Alister Spence, Ivan Sen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Peter Baxter
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 23, 2002 (sneaks May 17,18,19)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: December 6, 2002 [Also on DVD]
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: December 4, 2002