Ana Kokkinos’s upcoming new feature, Blessed, is a film that gets under your skin. In fact, it is easily one of the most powerful documents on motherhood that I have witnessed, and for days afterwards I was sucking in my breath and fighting back tears each time it came to mind (which was often).
Adapted from the award-winning stage play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, the film tracks seven children from five different families over 24 hours as they roam the suburbs and backstreets of Melbourne. The film then switches to the mothers' stories, following them across the same day as they work to keep their families intact and their children safe. All these characters are disempowered in some way, but universal is that each is bound by the force that connects mothers and their children.
Each young person is in some form of danger or distress due in part to their mothers’ distraction as she struggles with her own issues. As for the children, there can be no real understanding of the impact of their actions on their families. The storylines intersect tenuously but with powerful results.
While some will experience this as a film about poverty, or about racism, or the perils and confusion of adolescence — all of which are true — to me, this film is ultimately one about motherhood — in all its overwhelming pain, tenderness, ambivalence, fear. And profound love.
Writers Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius and Christos Tsiolkas have adapted the play for the big screen, and while its history is at times detectable, it did not take away from the compellingly gritty cinematic experience. The film replaces some of the more overt polemics of the play with deeper psychological portraits of the characters, with Frances O’Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-lee Furness and Victoria Haralabidou leading an exceptional ensemble cast.
Be warned: Blessed is a film which will make you feel like someone’s cracked open your ribcage, taken hold of your heart and tried to wrench it from your chest (or at least given it one almighty twist). There are moments I found literally painful to watch. But like all good art, it leaves you with a profound sense of what it is to be human.
(Sorry, bit of a formal review--but that's one of the things I do in my other life as hack for hire...)
Blessed is on as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival and opens nationally 10 September. Hurrah for the recent/current spate of great Australian films! I will be doing interviews with some of Blessed's cast and crew later in the week and will post links…