Film review – Summer Coda (2010)

Summer Coda: Heidi (Rachael Taylor) and Michael (Alex Dimitriades)
Heidi (Rachael Taylor) and Michael (Alex Dimitriades)

Part road movie, part romance, part drama about overcoming grief, Summer Coda is the striking debut feature film by writer/director Richard Gray. Rachael Taylor (Cedar Boys) plays Heidi, a young woman who has travelled from her home in Nevada, USA to Mildura in country Victoria, Australia. Arriving just in time to attend the funeral of her father, whom see hasn’t seen since she was 7-years-old, Heidi finds companionship in Michael (Alex Dimitriades, Head On) a local orange grower who plays hosts to an eclectic group of travelling fruit pickers each year. What unravels is a gentle and extremely engaging story about a pair of immensely likeable people who are able to find solace from their respective pain through their growing unspoken attraction for one another.

The most immediately striking thing about Summer Coda is its ability to convey a wealth of story and character information visually. While so many contemporary films seem to fall into the trap of over explaining everything Summer Coda is a film that is confident enough to treat its audience with integrity by (mostly) allowing the visuals to tell the story.

Summer Coda: Michael (Alex Dimitriades) and Heidi (Rachael Taylor)
Michael (Alex Dimitriades) and Heidi (Rachael Taylor)

The visuals are also absolutely stunning to look at. Cinematographer Greg de Marigny has composed every shot exquisitely and the lighting in this film is close to perfect. So much thought has gone into how the colour and texture of the light will generate various moods and sensations throughout various sections of the film. Every shot is consistently beautiful and Summer Coda conveys a terrific sense of place. There are moments that are reminiscent of Terrance Malick’s masterpiece Days of Heaven while other moments strongly evoke the films of Bernardo Bertolucci.

As visually rich as it is, this is not a film that is stylistically self-conscious and the focus is on the human drama between Heidi and Michael, with both Taylor and Dimitriades delivering extremely strong performances. Dimitriades demonstrated just how electrifying an actor he can be in Ana Kokkinos’s Head On but in Summer Coda he proves that he is also very capable of giving a powerfully restrained performance. The dynamic between the pair is very convincing and their relationship evolves in a way that feels completely natural and convincing.

Not every scene in Summer Coda works, with an early bar fight scene in particular feeling at odds with the tone of the rest of the film. However, for the most part this is an extremely enjoyable film that will seduce audiences with its blend of appealing characters, glorious locations and an intelligent story about loss and love.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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  1. What a softcock review. Summer Coda was bad, bad, bad.

    And if you’re going to reach for (misplaced) superlatives, at least learn how to spell Malick.

  2. Hi Lionel

    Thanks for pointing out my typo – they are pesky things and creep into my writing from time to time unfortunately. Anyway, it’s fixed now.

    You sound really angry about the fact that you didn’t like Summer Coda and that I did. Why is that? You haven’t exactly elaborated.

    I gather from the email address that you posted this under that you are the Lionel who runs Lionel Midford Publicity so I am curious to get more of your perspective considering your background in the Australian film industry. But shall we try to keep the discussion civil from now on?


  3. I liked this film (didn’t love it) but a fellow critic made an interesting observation last night – if this was a foreign film (say French), critics would be a lot more receptive (highlighting its beautiful cinematography and the noticeable lack of dialogue). I think he’s right.

  4. I find that’s the case with a lot of foreign films, although all those “light” and “fluffy” French films sure aren’t cutting it anymore with critics, I’ve noticed. Their audience at the box office seems to seriously be dipping as well.

  5. I agree with what was written in the review. There was a strong plot, cast was great together, scores were beautiful and matched the tone of the movie, as well as the cinematography. I think my only complaint would be that it was a little slow in the middle and when it finally picked up the movie ended pretty quick. Altogether though I think it was a great indie-style movie!

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