|Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) and Mona (Selina Zahednia)|
You suspect from the start, maybe you even know from the start, that things will eventually work out OK. Some semblance of peace, tranquillity or acceptance will ensue. These are just movies and film-makers don’t want to send their audience home unhappy or believing the world is an utterly grim place where the bad guys always win.
In Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper, the ragged and rough girl whose only outfit is a West Ham soccer shirt has been missing a father since birth. Then he hops over the back fence and takes control. Up to then she’s been OK living on her own, pretending to the authorities she has a carer and stealing bikes for a living.
In Shayda a little Iranian girl is being cared for in a women’s shelter by a mother on the run from a violent husband, and by a fiercely determined house mother who knows all the tricks that errant fathers get up to try and regain ownership of their children.
There you have it two stories made by first time directors that start from simple beginnings and build until they grip and don’t let go.
|Jason (Harris Dickinson), Georgie (Lola Campbell), Scrapper|
In order, Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper had me a bit nostalgic from the beginning. If you were brought up in the fifties and your mother much preferred genteel English comics like The Beano, The Dandy and Film Fun to the likes of The Phantom and Superman, you might remember Scrapper from the day. He was part of the Ash Can Alley Gang which was a regular in The Beano. Their sworn enemies were the Gasworks Gang. I didn’t get that all from memory. A quick Google search uncovered the info and also the more amazing info that The Beano only ceased publication a decade or so ago.
Scrapper was the go to guy when there was a fist fight to be won by the Ash Can Alley Gang. Regan doesn’t give any clue, beyond the film’s title, now a generic term, that she’s a Beano fan. Her approach is much more MTV with shape-changing screens and flashbacks direct to camera that tell the backstory of teenage lovers, accidental pregnancy, irresponsible fathers, sentimental re-bonding. (Maybe that's what PR leaflet was referring to in bold type when it mentioned the film is full of "aesthetic energy".) There is a classic story arc made good by its telling, the authentic detail and the ability of otherwise inarticulate people to bounce one line zingers around the room. Totally captivating.
Shayda is a much more serious movie. Noora Niasari’s debut is autobiographical in the extreme – a memory trace of early life in a women’s shelter escaping violent men and incorporating lots of documentary detail about the court process, possible abduction techniques, access arrangements. It is particularly good in establishing the general unsettling sense of continuous dread that such women and children experience. It is also very good in portraying the way men/a man can turn from apparently sweet-natured and kind to instantly violent and threatening. There is no flashy disco-like cutting, no attempts at alleviating humour. The subject itself is a constant story today, unlike Scrapper's story of a kid who can look after herself quite well and has more street smarts at nine or so than most of us ever have. (And yes I know Hirokazu Koreeda did a movie on the theme as well..).
These are both terrific movies and I urge you to see them. Shayda in particular adds to what seems a rather good year for independently spirited Australian films – Limbo, The Survival of Kindness, Petrol, Sweet As and The New Boy spring to mind. (Three of those by established male film-makers and the other three by smart young and very talented women directors…just saying.)