A Month of Sundays, Matthew Saville (Director and Screenwriter), Madman Production Company (Producer). Anthony LaPaglia ("Frank Mollard"), Julia Blake ("Sarah"), John Clarke ("Phillip Lang") Justine Clark ("Wendy") and Donal Forde ("Damien"). (2015, Australia).
(Spoiler Alert Key Plot Development given away here)
(Spoiler Alert Key Plot Development given away here)
I attended this film at an "invited session" which, to be equally accurate but more blunt, was a "freebie". I have resisted writing a review because it has seemed until now to be rather impolite to criticise something which has been offered for free. Like being invited to somebody's home for dinner and criticising the wallpaper! However my intense dislike of this film has got the better of me. Readers should note however that some critics (whom I sometimes admire considerably) have given this wretched piece of waste of government support funds, very positive reviews. Harking back to the invitees at the performance, most were beyond the "midlife crisis" which somehow, and to some extent, swirls around the protagonist, Frank, and because they had not paid for tickets, exercised fine critical judgement by walking out, well before the end.
Everyone is aware of the phenomenon of reification whereby an obviously inanimate "thing" seems to acquire life and personality and to in fact take over control of its creators. No one would expect to want to make a poor film but unfortunately the shelves of video shops are littered with films which are too poor to release in theatres and go "straight to disk". The film under review is just such a film. For me this is especially sad because the director has produced good work in the past.
The protagonist, Frank, is unable to make the most of his life, following separation (and perhaps divorce from his wife – I may have missed that as the thought of leaving the film crossed my mind) and her sudden success as an actress in a well-regarded soap. Previously she was an amateur actress wannabe. That latter position was no doubt less of a threat to this boofie bloke! Naturally he is estranged from his pubescent son. As the Jews say "the full megilla". He has apparently "sunk" so low that his only sales commission work as a real estate agent is of rather rundown deceased estates. I'm not quite sure why this was viewed negatively as fairly clearly deceased estates do exist, and someone has to sell them.
Frank is utterly without enthusiasm. The externalities of performance show him to be a complete loser. He smokes incessantly: the sure sign of somebody who is not "one of us" that is, normal and socially responsible. Perhaps for the role or perhaps because he too is entering "a certain age" Mr LaPaglia is carrying too much weight. He is employed by Phillip Lang as an agency owner and played by the derisorily unfunny John Clarke. Mr Clarke is better known as a comedian although to me his charms are virtually non-existent. He does not engage with the role at all and simply plays himself. I imagine I ought not to criticise that fact because from what I can see that is all Mr Clarke does in his TV performances
Precisely why Frank has gone fallow is never made clear. Sitting alone in what is variously described as his house (which has a "for sale" sign at the front) or alternatively his "flat" and surrounded by a detritus of boxes unpacked, which are there no doubt to make us fully convinced that his life is on hold, Frank receives a late-night telephone call from an elderly woman claiming to be his mother. The fact that his mother had died a year previously, does not seem to impede the flow of conversation until quite late. From this initial contact Frank develops a face-to-face relationship with the caller, Sarah, an elderly and retired librarian and also her "difficult" son Damien, whom we learn very late in the piece is gay and probably closeted who has the understated but nonetheless fear that this wretched real estate agent is moving in on his very elderly mother to take advantage of her and certainly her piece of property. Pretty good thinking if you ask me!
I imagine in the scheme of things that Sarah represents mature free spiritedness. She is orderly and content as one would imagine a librarian to be, but why she would have this influence on Frank is a mystery. Why Frank indeed would at least initially, so despondent about his mother's death at an advanced age from I think cancer (again my mind was wandering) strikes me as most untoward. I am reminded of the comment made by Noel Coward about the despondency of his friend Clifton Webb at the death of Webb's mother, at a very advanced age and as relevant, with whom Webb had lived all his life: "It must be terrible to be orphaned at 71".
Sarah contracts cancer and ultimately dies, surrounded by her "family": Frank and the jealous Damien. Julia Blake the the actor is originally English by birth and plays the travails of imminent death with calm Stoicism, like some heroine of the British Raj. From this readers may have gathered that I thought that performances were inept. To say that they were average at best is too generous.
The script is absolutely risible with in addition to no significant plot development, has equally non-existent character development. The pace is plodding to a degree exacerbated by exceptionally staid cinematography. Particularly in the first third of the film camera work is almost always static, frequently showing two characters conversing in profile at medium – long distance without any close-ups, face shots or reverses. It does become marginally mobile subsequently, but it shows nonetheless all the hallmarks of stasis which one expect to find in television work, especially soaps, where budgets are notoriously tight.
It may be the case that the script and production originally intended to deal with one or more more significant issues and that these multiple issues, to be dealt with properly, overbalanced the script and perhaps if produced, ended up on the cutting room floor. For example, the deceased estate homes nearly always feature a crucifix prominently on the wall or the shadow of brighter paint where one had been recently removed; so this was the hook upon which religion could be discussed. The gayness of Damien is revealed to no particular purpose towards the end of the film and his character is clearly not "gay". Whether his ponderousness and suspicion are the result of this character "defect" or simply the result of his base character, we never learn. Nor unfortunately do we care.
As I've previously said this film did not engage my imagination and I had a chance to observe a number of, what I consider production flaws. Men customarily wear their belts buckled from right to left, so that the end is near the left hip. Mr LaPaglia wears it in the opposite way. He is portrayed as being pretty much down and out and more or less living in squalor, yet his work vehicle is brand-new and immaculate. There are quite a number of Audi cars shown in the production and one wonders if these were the result of product placement.
There has been some criticism in some reviews that Frank treats every house he passes, including those he enters for whatever reason as sales prospects and gives a voice over commentary of value. Unfortunately my own experience is that real estate agents generally do this. What is not brought out by this mannerism is the way objects and indeed people are treated as simply vehicles for somebody's benefit – they don't exist in their own right. This is pretty much the way Frank behaves throughout the film and it's no wonder we feel no emotional attachment to him. It's also the way the director treats the audience in throwing in these various issues: divorce, family, et cetera as if we are to expect and give some particular response to these issues without the director having to do any work with them.
I thought this film was absolutely vile. I accept that many critics take the view that Australian films need to be lauded far beyond their true accomplishments in order to assist the industry generally. Both short and long-term I consider this to be very unproductive. When films from Australia are unsuccessful, it is all too frequent that the reason for failure is directed to the generally state or federal government funding bodies as if the dead hand of bureaucracy stifles creativity. This present film is a poignant example of exactly the opposite: the public funding bodies should have exercised far more control over the incipient creation of this film, perhaps strangling it at birth. This film was fundamentally flawed from script development onwards. I might also note that having the director also being the writer destabilised the potential of objective analysis of the film, both as to its script, and its actual production.