The Mango Tree

The Mango Tree (Kevin James Dobson, 1977) wr. prod. Michael Pate, Pisces Productions, from novel by Ronald McKie, dp Brian Probyn, design Leslie Binns, music Marc Wilkinson, ed. John Scott; Christopher Pate (Michael's son), Tony Barry, Carol Burns, Diane Craig, Gloria Dawn, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ben Gabriel, Robert Helpmann, Gerard Kennedy, Charles Tingwell; coming-of-age story; Bundaberg, Qld, colour, widescreen, 104 min.

This is precisely the kind of film categorised by Dermody & Jacka as belonging to the 'AFC Genre', by which they means films that were seen as worthy of receiving government funding. The absolute archetype is Picnic at Hanging Rock, but the present film falls squarely in this 'aesthetic force field' and is so listed. Their definition is worth quoting at some length.

The most obvious aesthetic grouping among the films since 1970 is the picturesque period film formed in the wake of the success in 1975 of Picnic at Hanging Rock. This is not necessarily the largest nor the most commercially successful group, but these film have tended to be the most 'citable', the ones deemed worthy of international showcasing and that have earned honourable mention, if not glory, for Australia as a fledgling film culture. The phase in which these films dominated was the middle one, 1975 to 1980/1, when the Australian Film Commission and its preferences dominated local production and strongly influenced the way Australian film came to be officially thought and talked of. Dermody & Jacka, vol. 2: 31.

Perhaps the pressures affected the quality of the final film; although The Mango Tree looks superb (it is sumptously photographed by Brian Probyn), it is somewhat tentatively directed, a few scenes are clumsily handled and elements in the narrative seem to have been telescoped unduly (the scene of the grandmother's death is handled very abruptly). Ultimately, though, the film's main flaw is Christopher Pate, badly miscast ... Stratton: 258-259.

It may be unfair to suggest that Christopher Pate won the lead role in this plodding 1977 Australian melodrama purely due to nepotism ... [he] looks way too old to be credible ... [and] lacked the presence and raw talent to pull off the part ... small town is populated by clunky stereotypes ... Don Groves, SBS.


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