By Paul Fischer
If Ana Kokkinosâ€™ ”Blessed” is anything to go by, the Australian film industry is alive and well and brimming with originality.
Based on a play called ”Whoâ€™s Afraid of the Working Class” by Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius, and Christos Tsiolkas, ”Blessed” takes place during the course of one day and night, during which seven children find themselves on difficult urban journeys in Melbourne. Thereâ€™s Katrina (Sophie Lowe) and Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) street-smart girls, who ditch school and are caught shoplifting. Having recently fled his mother’s cloying love, Roo (Eamon Farren) is living on the street, but when he finds himself in a porn film he realises he’s not so tough and just wants to go home. Unfairly accused of stealing his mother’s money, angry Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson) attempts a real theft – with unexpected results. Brother and sister, Orton (Reef Ireland) and Stacey (Eva Lazzaro), must flee the mother they love in order to survive. And James (Wayne Blair) is the most lost of all; a young Aboriginal man with no place in the white or the black world. The second half of the film shifts to examine their plight from the perspectives of the mothers in their lives. There is the fertile Rhonda [Frances O'Connor] seemingly trapped in a relationship and trying to connect with the children that have deserted her. Deborra-Lee Furness is Tanya, the nurse whose marriage crumbles amidst urban, working-class realities, who finds solace in a dying patient. Then thereâ€™s the fragile Bianca [Miranda Otto] always on the search of elusive lady luck, which she finds, unexpectedly, and then squanders.
Few films of recent memory have delivered the kind of emotional punch than this extraordinary film. Ana Kokinos has crafted a work that is richly layered and taken this series of plays and masterfully turned them into a seamless film that explores the realities of working-class life and how both mothers and children are affected by actions in a very different way. Life is so fragile, the film tells us, and children and life are a blessing. The playwrights worked on the screenplay and the film is hauntingly cinematic, beautifully shot by veteran cinematographer Geoff Burton whose camerawork captures the often dark underbelly of the Australian urban landscape, enhanced by the dulcet rhythmic tones of Cezary Skubiszewskiâ€™s music.
But the performances of the women are what make ”Blessed” all that more satisfying. Last seen on screen in the unfortunate TV series ”Cashmere Mafia” [along with co-star Otto], Frances Oâ€™Connor is magnificent as Rhonda. Itâ€™s a tough role, and she navigates through her emotional rollercoaster ride with superb clarity. There is one moment in the film during which Oâ€™Connor gives a performance of stunning emotional power. She is superb here. Rarely gracing the screen these days with substantial roles, Deborra-Lee Furness is truly a revelation as Tanya, delivering a haunting, beautifully realized and delicately nuanced performance, easily one of her finest moments on screen in an over a decade. As the camera closes in on her, we see her pain through every pore. And Otto is breathtakingly luminous as Bianca. Blessed is by no means an easy film, but it is an emotive, hauntingly beautiful masterpiece that remains unforgettable in its honesty and cinematic elegance.