Beneath Clouds

Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) wr. Ivan Sen, prod. Teresa-Jayne Hanlon; Damian Pitt (Vaughn), Dannielle Hall (Lena); 52nd Berlinale - Berlin Film Festival 2002: Premiere First Film Award, Piper Heidsieck award for Best New Talent - Dannielle Hall; Perth Premiere: 9 May 2002, with Ivan Sen in attendance; Best Director AFI Awards 7 November 2002; Best Cinematography AFI Awards 7 November 2002: Allan Collins; national release 23 May 2002; 95 min.

A personal favourite: this shows what life is like for many rural (but not remote) First Australians - and also vignettes of their relations with (some) non-Aboriginal people. It's beautifully photographed - the director is also a stills photographer.

I've seen a couple of the short films that Sen made before this first feature, and I see them as maquettes for that construction - especially Tears (Ivan Sen, 1998) in which two young people called Vaughn and Lena, as in Beneath Clouds - tho with different actors - leave the mish [mission] and head for the bus-stop, possibly to leave town; Luke Carroll (Vaughn), Jamilla Frail (Lena).

Luke Carroll (b. 1982) is a very good actor, who turned in a great performance in Australian Rules (Paul Goldman, 2002) a film about a clash between non/indigenous cultures. He could obviously also have played Vaughn in Sen's later film. However, the completely inexperienced actor the director cast, Damian Pitt, did a strikingly good job. Unfortunately, he will never act again, as it seems he was killed in a car accident 25 August 2009. Dannielle Hall has to date also not gone on with an acting career.

I have several reasons for thinking this a very fine film indeed. One is the photography. Sen himself trained and worked as a stills photographer, and must have contributed his vision to the framing and lighting, tho the actual dp was Allan Collins (who also shot Wind, 2002, before moving on to the feature Mad Bastards).

Another is the insight it's possible to gain into the lives of Aboriginal ppl in Australia, from the inside.

Then there's the subtlety of the story-telling, particularly in the moment of revelation of something the viewer knows, but the main character (Vaughn) does not. Not to mention the ambiguity as to the possibility of Lena being pregnant.

And there's the density or layering of meaning. Take the hill observed from the car, and the one Vaughan and Lena look at. At one moment it possibly represents Lena's romantic view of a possible Ireland to which she hopes to 'return'. But it is also symbolic of one of the most reprehensible moments in the story of the interrelationship between indigenous peoples and the invaders, as told by Vaughn and recalled minutes later by Lena and the aunty (Jocelyn Murray) in the black car. She is the one who reveals Lena's secret to Vaughn: it's obvious to her, and damning to Vaughn that he cannot see it. The wordless look that Lena gives Vaughn is one of the most poignant in Australian film.


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