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When parenthood is a mixed blessing

Reef Ireland and Eva Lazzaro in BlessedDon't ask Ana Kokkinos stupid questions. That was my big mistake. I loved your new film, but this friend of mine, he reckons it's, like, voyeuristic, and that it exploits downtrodden characters for entertainment purposes. What do you reckon?

Kokkinos bristles. She's no stranger to tackling 'edgy' subject matter (her previous film, Book of Revelation, concerned the plight a man who was gang raped by a group of women), and she doesn't do so glibly. If you want to challenge her, you've got to do better than that.

Her answer, 'I disagree', is swift and prickly as a whack with the rough side of a brush.

Fair enough. It's true that Blessed, which follows a day in the lives of an assortment of teenagers and their mothers, weighs disproportionately on working class angst. But like the play it was based on (which comprised four separate story strands each written by a different writer), it imbues its characters with a sense of dignity, and leaves the viewer with a feeling of hope.

'One of the things that attracted me to the play was the idea about the connection between mothers and children,' Kokkinos recalls. 'Once we hit on that as an overall theme, we were able to bind the stories together with that idea in mind.'

Act one focuses on the children. Roo (Eamon Farren) is making a quick buck starring in a solo porn film. His sister Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) and her friend Katrina (Sophie Lowe) are busted by the cops for truancy and shoplifting. Brother and sister Orton and Stacey (Reef Ireland and Eva Lazzaro) are runaways from an untenable home life.

In act two we relive the same day from the mothers' point of view. Roo and Trisha's widow mother Gina (Victoria Haralabidou) is increasingly anxious for the wellbeing of her wayward son. Bianca (Miranda Otto) is a flaky single mum, who loves her daughter Katrina but is stymied by a sense of inadequacy and lack of fulfillment.

'Kids at a certain age are in conflict with their parents,' says Kokkinos. 'They don't understand their parents, and in some ways they are self-obsessed.

'What we discover is that while these relationships are severely tested, all of those children, on some fundamental level, need the love of their mothers. I find that a really powerful and uplifting and incredibly hopeful element to the film.'

One of the more understated storylines concerns an adult Aboriginal man, James (Wayne Blair), who, after the death of his elderly (white) adoptive mother, Laurel (Monica Maughan), is visited by childhood memories of his biological mother's attempts to see him. It is, of course, an oblique comment on the Stolen Generations.

'James doesn't sit comfortably in the black world or the white world,' says Kokkinos. 'He had two mothers, but no mother at all. It's about the Stolen Generation. It's about a man who has a range of unresolved issues about his black mother and his white mother.'

Most epitomising the film's themes of motherly love, loss and redemption is Rhonda (Frances O'Connor), mother of Orton and Stacey, who in Kokkinos' words 'is unable to give her kids what they need ... but in fact her love for those children is so powerful'.

'It's a remarkable achievement for an actress to take us on a journey where we set out thinking she's one kind of person, and she takes you to a completely different place,' says Kokkinos. 'Frances was very committed to giving Rhonda a very visceral presence.'

O'Connor is a standout in a film that contains many strong performances. Notably, Lowe, who was terrific as the lithe title character in Beautiful Kate, proves her versatility as the more bogan-ish Katrina. The fact that the actors bring such depth and emotional truth to the characters is one reason why the 'voyeuristic' tag just doesn't suit.

Kokkinos cites a favourite scene, in which Trisha, while detained at the 'cop shop', becomes outraged when a police officer tells her and Katrina they are 'trash'. 'You can't say that,' Trisha retorts. It's an assertion of dignity: 'We are worth something.'

In another scene, Tanya (Deborra-Lee Furness), wife of the unemployed and resentful Peter (William McInnes), watches her son Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson) as he sleeps. It's 'a stolen moment' that doesn't last; after Daniel awakens, an argument breaks out of the hurtful kind that can only take place between mother and teenage son.

'This is a set of characters who are dealing with everyday issues, ordinary people dealing with things in everyday life with great humour, joy and dignity,' says Kokkinos. 'These are very real stories. They're the kind of stories that you can find happening out there in the suburbs. And it's a very contemporary take on these questions.'

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival. 

Topic tags: ana kokkinos, blessed, Frances O'Connor, Deborah Lee Furness, Miranda Otto, Sophie Lowe.William McInnes



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