Published at: Sept. 8, 2008, 7:13 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
LATAURO IS BLOWN AWAY BY THE BRILLIANT BOXING DAY
There was a time when, feeling the surge of responsibility as AICN's token Australia/New Zealand correspondent, I felt I should see every film from the Land of the Long White Cloud and the Land of the Hollywood Tax Credit, so I could do justice to my position.
That feeling was since replaced by the feeling that I should see all Oz/NZ films because I wanted to. At the start of this year, I decreed that I should see every single local film, go out of my way to catch as many as I could.
Naturally, I did not live up to this promise. I missed screenings and I've misplaced screeners (recently turned my house upside down looking for THE HORSEMAN...). I've done this with Hollywood films as well, but I don't care as much about those. See, the most rewarding part of doing this job is finding the gems hidden amongst the rocks of faeces. When you find a gem, you want to shout loudly about it, and having the bullhorn of AICN makes it a whole lot more satisfying.
I almost never do DVD reviews, but when you're sent a film like BOXING DAY, you immediately do away with such meaningless traditions. I missed this film on its cinema release, but I'm not disappointed by that fact. Watching it on DVD was possibly better, because the film is so layered and rich, I immediately wanted to go back and rewatch it. It's one of those films that compels multiple viewings, and yet it seems like it would be the complete opposite.
I'm getting ahead of myself. BOXING DAY is a film directed by Kriv Stenders, previously best known for THE ILLUSTRATED FAMILY DOCTOR, which, based on BD, has just hit the top of my Must See list. BOXING DAY, however, manages to check every box in terms of what I don't want to see in a film: a domestic drama, an Australian film with guns in it, broad accents, "gritty realism"... Had I really looked into it before I watched it, I fear I might have been turned off watching it altogether.
And that would have been a mistake. Somehow, Stenders and his cast take the worst hallmarks of Australian films, the most tired cliches, and transform them into a film that never feels anything short of unoriginal, anything short of real. This is a good example of "No, This Is How You Do It" filmmaking, where every those who give our films a bad name get taken to school.
A brief rundown of the plot: It's Christmas, and former criminal Chris is awaiting his niece, her mother, and her mother's new partner. As he prepares the meal, an old acquaintance from Chris's past arrives with a money-making proposition that could put Chris's parole in jeopardy.
Actually, that's not the plot; that's just the setup. That's the first five minutes. If you think you know where this film is going, you don't. I thought I had it pegged once all of the above was revealed. Then it went in a different direction, and I thought I had it pegged again, and I was wrong again. This happened a few more times, right up until the ending, where the last ten minutes had me absolutely gobsmacked.
Once I'd seen the film, I took a look at the back cover of the DVD and discovered something else that made my jaw drop: the film was done in one shot. One single, continuous take, and I hadn't noticed. I'd been so caught up in the plot and the characters, that I hadn't even noticed the film was one shot. It's still a bit shocking to think I missed something that overt.
This is a remarkable film that destroys the conventions it uses. The character work is unassailable. I didn't recognise any of the actors, but they're all note perfect, particularly Richard Green (as Chris), and Misty Sparrow (as his niece). It is a thoroughly masterful film that has no shame standing alongside contemporaries such as SEXY BEAST and THE WAR ZONE.
The DVD itself is also pretty sweet. It's a two disc edition with a number of special features, including a "rehearsal" version of the entire film taken weeks before the film was made. There's also a beautiful production booklet, and the discs come in a very attractive fold-out cardboard case. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I like my DVDs to have this kind of presentation. (They spend more time on my shelf than in my DVD player, so why shouldn't the covers look attractive?)
Now, having praised the film to all buggery, I'm going to contrarily request that you dial down your expectations. Just forget what I've said, go and pick it up, and discover that every now and then, we get it very, very right.