Blessed is a film about seven children and five mothers, told over a twenty-four hour period first from the perspective of the children and then from the perspective of the mothers. The five intertwining stories are all about children who have either literally or spiritually run away or become lost to their mothers. A 14-year-old boy has run away from his neglectful mother but is followed by his younger sister, two 15-year-old school girls skip school to go shoplifting, another run-away boy is sexually exploited, another boy commits an unintentional act of violence and a young adult Indigenous man struggles with the fact that he was raised by a white woman.
Directed by Ana Kokkinos, who made the contemporary Australian classic Head On, Blessed is initially hampered by some very stagy dialogue. This is likely to be directly attributed to the fact that Blessed first began as an adaptation of the play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? Nevertheless, the film does find its rhythm reasonably quickly and its initial disjointedness makes much more sense once you reach the half-way point in the film and realise that you’ve only witnessed the day’s events from one set of perspectives.
Blessed is a difficult film because not all of it works and it takes a while to penetrate. At times it feels too much like it wallows in every type of unpleasant and depressing situation that could be imagined, as if it is ticking off Confronting Issues from a checklist. The inclusion of the Indigenous story in particular feels a little unnecessary. At the same time Blessed is an incredibly emotional and accomplished film with an astonishing use of music, colour and editing. Kokkinos achieves a remarkable degree of intimacy by shooting the majority of the film in tight close-ups and medium close-ups so that the faces of the actors are nearly always filling the screen. She certainly gets the best out of her cast as all the acting in Blessed is superb. However, the standout performance is Frances O’Connor (Three Dollars, Artificial Intelligence: AI). O’Connor’s portrayal of Rhonda, one of the mothers, is shattering and her final scenes in the film will linger with you for a long time. Blessed is uneven and overall not as good as Kokkinos’s other films but it nevertheless contains some of her best work to date.
© Thomas Caldwell, 2009
Interview with Blessed director Ana Kokkinos from The Casting Couch 5 September 2009
I agree about the performances, which save Kokkinos’ film. Kokkinos does a remarkable job of recovering from multiple blunders she makes in the set-up but then delivers powerful emotional repercussions. The film would have been so much better had she not shot herself in the foot so many times at the start. At least it comes together well at the end, rather than so many films that start with promise but descend into mash at the end.
It ends as a 4 to 5 star film but yes, it is overall held back by a weak beginning that I think is mainly due to inherent script issues. I have such incredibly mixed feelings about this film because so much of it is astonishing.
I have such incredibly mixed feelings about this film
Yeah, I know what you mean. The film ended and the missus asked me “what did you think?” and I was just stunned and couldn’t talk. I just sat there quiet for a couple of minutes to compose myself. I was surprised how much the film affected me because I thought it made many of the same mistakes that so many recent Australian family dramas have made. But, as I mentioned, Kokkinos manages to recover from them. For me, it could have been 4-5 stars, but I can only give it 3.5.
I disagree with you about the aboriginal story. It is quite subtly told and it takes you a long way into the movie to discover what it’s about or even why it’s there. Most reviewers, I’ve noticed, ignore this episode preferring to concentrate on the shoplifting schoolgirls, the poky-playing mum or Frances O’Connor’s heart-rending screams. But there’s a wonderful back story to the old lady that you pick up from the left-wing books on her shelves – Marx, Lenin. Kafka… she gives the boy a novel by Steinbeck – and finally the photo of the two of them in Red Square. It’s oblique but pointed indictment of the Australian Communist movement of the 1930s to 50s that admired the USSR and “saved” little black boys like Paul. To me it’s one of the most subtle and effective aspects of this wonderful film. And an important “theoretical” perspective on the working class.
Hi Ian. My main problem with the Indigenous story was that there was too little of it, hence it felt a little tacked on. The actual scenes that were in the film I really liked and I especially liked Wayne Blair’s performance as James (I think his name was James, not Paul).
However, I have to admit that after reading your very considered take on the importance of this aspect of the film I am inclined to reassess my feelings to both its place in the film and the film as a whole. Despite my initial mixed feelings about Blessed it is a film that has stayed with me and the more I think about it the more I like it.
So thank you very much for dropping by and sharing your close reading of the scenes in question. You’ve certainly prompted me to reconsider my stance.
I have to agree with Ian, the Indigenous story line was the only part of the film I liked. The rest of it was dreadful, wallowing around in its on self pity like a spoilt Goth. 1/2 star.
Blessed = cursed.
No wonder Aussie films are failing at the box office.
I actually think Australian films suffer at the box office partly because they are unfairly all dismissed as being gloomy and depressing. People see one or two films that they don’t like and therefore assume those films are indicative of the whole industry.
The blanket dismissal of all Australian films is certainly unfair and the question is whether a film is well-made or not, and not whether the subject is bleak. Despite its strengths, the main problem with Blessed is that it was made by an old paradigm of Australian film-making that has been well and truly rejected at the box office – politically correct, ‘worthy’, ‘kitchen sink dramas’ that we’ve had to endure wholesale for so long. If there hadn’t already been a hundred films like it, maybe we could embrace it. 2009 showed that we can make different films and now we need to build on that.
I mostly agree Paul. I don’t think films like Blessed are themselves the problem but I think a lack of diversity that has seen a big recent output of such films is worth examining. After the success of Lantana far too many ‘worthy adult dramas’ were produced in an attempt to capitalise on its success by hoping to repeat it. The same thing happened with the glut of working-class comedies after The Castle, ironic crime films post Two Hands and Chopper and quirky low budget comedies post Love and Other Catastrophes.
Last year was tremendously diverse for Australian cinema and Blessed – like it or love it (or like us have mixed feelings) – was part of that diversity.
Comments are closed.