Youths burned by the flames of self interest

Galore (MA). Director: Rhys Graham. Starring: Ashleigh Cummings, Lily Sullivan, Toby Wallace, Maya Stange, Aliki Matangi. 103 minutes

When it comes to symbols of destruction and renewal, few are more potent than bushfires. That is particularly true in the Australian context. Galore's poignant coming-of-age story unfolds in the weeks prior to the 2003 Canberra bushfires. This, we are warned in voiceover by protagonist and narrator Billie (Cummings), is merely the exclamation point for the events that are about to unfold.

The heart of Billie's story is her friendship with aspiring writer Laura (Lily Sullivan). The friendship is marked by an intense, almost sensual intimacy, but also by envy and deceit: Billie is secretly engaged in a sexual relationship with Laura's boyfriend Danny (Wallace), even as Laura contemplates losing her virginity to him. Billie loves him; the charismatic Laura does not.

Their lives are further complicated by the presence of troubled Islander boy Isaac (Matangi). Billie's mother Carrie (Stange) works at a homeless shelter, and has invited Isaac to live in a caravan in their backyard while he tries to achieve some stability. This creates tension between Billie and Carrie, but also between Billie and Laura, both of whom feel drawn to the handsome and enigmatic Isaac.

Galore is, in part, a rumination on adolescent self-centredness: its inevitability and inadequacy as a shield protecting the vulnerable, budding self from the flames of experience. Billie's possessiveness of, and insouciant disloyalty to, Laura; her fierce protectiveness of her and her mother's 'space'; and her muted competitiveness for Isaac's attention, all seem equally natural and ill-fated.

We sympathise with her, even as we recognise that each of these is a signpost to heartbreak; a step towards the flames. They elicit a personal turmoil that spills past the margins of her self to embroil those whom she cares about. In her recklessness she involves all four youths in a spectacular accident, the aftermath of which presents her with difficult moral choices and hard lessons about choice and consequences.

Writer-director Graham's debut feature film is emotionally compelling and beautifully shot on location in the houses, parks and yards of suburban Canberra. The cinematography is expansive enough to capture the landscapes and streetscapes of these young people's world, but also moves in close to find the finer landscapes of skin, the touches, gestures and glances of human intimacy.

Despite a robust portrayal of Billie's inner life, the film's great weakness is its limited development of the supporting characters. Laura, who looms large to Billie as an object of intense adoration and envy, nonetheless remains to the viewer a vaguely ethereal sketch. Given the centrality of this complicated relationship, the thinness of the portrayal goes some way to deflating the film's emotional core.

Though not entirely. In its final moments Galore builds to an immense emotional crescendo, as the bushfires encroach upon the only world that Billie knows. By that stage her young life has already been badly scorched. This is growing up. It hurts.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Galore, Rhys Graham, Ashleigh Cummings, Lily Sullivan, Toby Wallace, Maya Stange, Aliki Matangi

 

 

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