Watching Strange Colors only a matter of weeks after being reminded of Jane Campion’s feature length debut 2 Friends my first thought was about their similarities – intense personal experience, actors displaying a raw truth, the focus on a young woman/women. I was minded to be extravagant and call it the best first feature since 2 Friends all the way back except some rudimentary googling came up with the names Shirley Barrett, Cate Shortland, Laurie McInnes, Anna Kokkinos, Samantha Lang, Rachel Ward, Beck Cole, Jennifer Kent, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Elissa Down, Tracey Moffatt, Margot Nash, Rachel Perkins, Catriona McKenzie, Ann Turner, Alice Foulcher…and there are more.
So the trick for Alena Lodkina now will be to have a career to rival the titans Campion and Gillian Armstrong each with substantial bodies of work stretching for decades, rather than just make a couple of movies over far too long and eking out a living doing TV. If my theory of film funding applied she would already have had a call from Screen Australia telling her she has a million bucks to make another one quick smart and get on with it, just bring us back a movie. (I thought the same thing about Alice Foulcher and Gregory Erdstein after seeing their debut That’s Not Me last year.) But in the land of the eternal ‘another draft please, here’s a morsel’, that’s not the way it works. As a result, the others mentioned have found much harder rows to hoe, some have seemingly given up.
But no mistake, Lodkina’s career kick off is quite something – a film which explores relationships between polar opposites and sets it way out in Wake in Fright country where life is hard, brutal and demanding and every man seems to have a can of beer permanently attached to their hand from morning refresher to evening stupor and no other women are seen. It’s very blokey, but Lodkina eschews making Kenneth Cook and Ted Kotcheff’s conclusion her own. There is little frustration and even less violence on show, even the animal slaughter is discreet and there’s not even a fight in the pub around the pool table, the most notorious area of any bar for starting fisticuffs.
The father/daughter relationship on show – reserved daughter looking for her father out at Lightning Ridge because she thinks he’s dying, father unwilling to do much to refresh the relationship, choosing rmostly to resume hostilities, is done very well. You feel some sense of lived experience. In the end the daughter moves on for exactly the same reason she left him behind before. She doesn’t like him very much. That was good. No phoney reconciliations, no promises.
A fine debut and certainly the best of the Australian films I saw at the SFF.