d. Kriv Stenders / 2009 / Australia / 96 min
Viewed at: London Australian Film Festival
Cinema 3 @ Barbican (London, UK)
Although it’s mostly described as such, Kriv Stenders’ Lucky Country isn’t really a western. It is, however, a dark, tense, pessimistic colonial thriller, stacked with atmosphere and a palpable sense of menace.
A new country is forged from the ashes of disparate British colonies, the motherland replaced by a new patriarchy. On an isolated farm, Nat (Aden Young) – wifeless and increasingly desperate – struggles to get by with his two children, Sarah (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) and Tom (Toby Wallace), as they wring the very last drops of survival from a dry, godforsaken earth. The arrival of three strangers, and the subsequent lure of gold, just might provide that final straw.
Tension is key here. The first half of the film induces a mysterious – almost hypnotic – sense of impending, ‘will they, wont they’ dread, before the arrival of the trio of strangers initiates subtle shifts in tone, before finally giving way to a much more kinetic, violent sense of tension. Whilst too much time is perhaps spent on the initial form of mysterious tension, its likely that any shift away from it would surely have deflated the brutal impact once the violent tension fully takes hold.
What is perhaps most interesting here are the formal attributes which Stenders’ manipulates to facilitate the transition from one form of tension to the other. We are given clues to what might come, changes signalled by increasingly frenzied camerawork and a shift towards perceptibly odd camera angles.
This is Australia as a forsaken land, with Andy Cox’s script mining a deep allegorical undercurrent that constantly reminds us, no matter how hard you work the land, it remains wild, untameable. And, perhaps more importantly, it tells us that once the stubborn colonial men have fallen over each other trying desperately to strangle what little they can from the land, it will be left to their children, the next generation, to take the country over, to make something new, something different, something better.
This is an understated, unobstrusive film in the best possible sense, unassumingly letting its action unfold without forcing too much of a convenient narrative structure on a world which is itself lacking any structure, and narrative, of its own. Admittedly, the continual ‘twists’ in this tale do become a little tedious, and some of the dialogue did let the otherwise naturalistic style down, but this is low budget Australian genre filmmaking at its finest and proves once again that, whatever Kriv Stenders does next, it will always be eminently watchable.