Australia, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Sean Keenan, Elias Anton, Kee Chan, Isabelle Cornish, Carolyn Dunphy, Daniel Webber, Miah Madden, Matthew Le Nevez, Simon Alrahi.
Directed by Kriv Stenders.
There is quite a lot going on in Australia Day. More than a lot. In fact, there are three stories in one – as well as the background of January 26 in Brisbane.
While Australia Day has been celebrated throughout the country for a long time, there have been hesitations and protests, especially about January 25 being the last day of freedom for indigenous people on this continent. With only 50 years of history of aboriginal rights since the referendum of 1967, there are still many issues that can surface quite powerfully about Australia Day. Then there is the reality of so many migrants, Chinese from long ago and more prevalent in recent times, the post-war European migrants, the Vietnamese in the 1970s and 1980s, and refugees and migrants from Middle Eastern countries… How do they participate in the ethos of Australia Day?
The screenplay for Australia Day takes up race and ethnic issues as well as offering a continuous background, especially from television coverage of celebrations, sunny and raucous, as well as family and picnics. There is a Chinese story. There is a middle eastern story. There is an indigenous Australian story. Throughout the film we begin to see some connections, tenuous in many ways, between the three stories – with a fine, small but significant, connection in the last few minutes of the film.
There is a lot of running in the film, a lot of chasing. A young aboriginal girl is running from the police. A young man from a middle eastern family is being pursued by white locals. A Chinese woman is escaping from sex slavery. This running and chasing motif extends throughout the whole film giving it a dramatic urgency.
Caught up in the Chinese story is Bryan Brown as a farmer whose land has been repossessed by the bank. He has suffered from drought, the effect on his cattle and their destruction. Often in the background – and then, outside the window of his flat in Brisbane, the Minister for Trade is promoting an agreement with China that is to be signed that afternoon. The Chinese woman hails him down in the street and gets into his car.
This kind of story has been prevalent in Australian films, in the important film The Jammed about sex slavery, but also a theme in the recent Goldstone as well as in the background of Top of the Lake, China Girl. The girls are truly slaves, prostituted by ruthless owners. Can an ordinary, decent enough Australian deal with this situation? Despite his being played by Bryan Brown, it seems that he can’t. But he is a man of conscience and must take a stand and make an effort.
The middle eastern story is about young drug dealer, his dominating mother, his upright father, and the younger brother being tangled with a local girl and being pursued by her brothers, one sadistic, the other with a conscience. This is a revenge story. It is also a possible peace and reconciliation story – not explicitly tied to Australia Day but important in terms of the longer inhabitants of the land since 1788 accepting newcomers who are racially, culturally and religiously different. Some interesting comparisons could be made with the Australian film, Down Under, set in the racial riots in Cronulla.
The indigenous story has its heart-rending aspects. Two young girls have been abandoned by their mother who is a drug addict in the Brisbane streets. The father is brutal and they react violently against him, killing him, taking a car, being pursued by the police – in fact, by an indigenous policewoman (Shari Sebbens) who knows them, their grandmother and the difficult family situation. She is asked to stand down from any enquiries in the search for the girl, April (Miah Madden) but she feels that she must, tracking down where the girl might have gone to find her mother, catching up with her at a desperate moment.
While we might have seen these issues in these stories before, they are worth telling again. They are interestingly acted and the film is been directed by Kriv Stenders (the Red Dog films as well as the miniseries, Wake in Fright).
1. The status of Australia Day? January 26th and its suitability? History? Protests?
2. Brisbane standing in for Australia? The suburbs, the streets, city vistas, police precincts, ordinary homes, the brothel, hotels? The musical score?
3. The three stories, the connection? The police and the aboriginal story, Terry and his connection with his son investigating the aboriginal story?? The middle eastern family, the father, taxi driver, giving April the lift and not taking her money?
4. The interconnections between the stories, their placement, editing and peace, tension?
5. The background of the television programs, the visualising of the Australia Day celebrations? The tone? The politician and the trade agreement? Her speeches?
6. Central characters running, the chases, the sense of dynamic?
7. Sonya, policewoman, the car crash, the pursuit of the car, not knowing the two girls were in the car, the effect of the crash, the girl’s death? People running? The taxi and his helping her? April, her age, the brutal father, his death, her responsibility? Her mother, leaving, drugs? April going to the office, seeing the documents, the address, leaving, going to the centre, her mother gone? The streets, the drugs? The impact on April? Her going to the bridge?
8. Sonya, her role as a policewoman, racial issues, female issues and tensions with the men? A sense of guilt? Her being stood down, her continuing the investigation, searching for April? The commands, phone calls, her chasing April, visiting her grandmother and the discussions about custody? To the centre, to the Institute, to the land with the drugs, getting medication and ambulance for the mother? April on the bridge, her talk, warding off the police and their guns? Saving April? Her achievement? The background of Terry’s son and his being part of the investigation and his attitude towards Sonya?
9. The Chinese girl, running, her being pursued? The chance encounter with Terry, getting into the vehicle? Her lack of language, fear of the police? The way she was dressed? Terry and his background, the farm, foreclosure by the banks, wanting to leave it to his son, the phone calls with his son, the son criticising of him because of his devotion of the farm rather than his wife and son? His dropping the girl, seeing her being chased by the young man, his intervention? The violence? His dilemmas? His own physical health, urinating blood? His taking her to the centre? His meeting the old man and the women, paying, seeing the girls?
10. Terry, the Minister for Trade, hearing her on the television, the resentment, his gun, seeing her out the window, his plan, the change, going with his rifle to the brothel, the confrontation, getting the girl to escape, his shooting the man at the brothel, his being shot, his son finding the message and the note in his pocket? His plan to shoot himself at the function for the signing of the agreement?
11. The young man being chased, middle eastern background, the traditional Australian men pursuing him? His story, sexual activity with Chloe, the men and their resentment, pursuing him? Her denying everything, her taking drugs? His being tied up, tortured? The hate, Sean and his character, severe? Tony as his friend? Jason, his plea for helping the young man? The situation, Jason freeing him? His running home, his older brother, the drug dealing, his mother and her strong influence, wanting revenge? The brother taking his friends, the attack on Sean, torturing him? Returning to the house, Jason? The plea to stop the revenge?
12. The father and his driving the taxi, arriving home – and the audience seeing him as the man who gave April the lift?
13. The blend of themes, contemporary Australian stories, contemporary Australian problems?