When sifting through the self – indulgent art-house and borderline laughable genre flicks at Edinburgh International, occasionally you get a desire for more palatable brand of honesty. Thankfully the youth programmed ‘Teen Spirit’ strand often delivers, allowing you to privately channel nostalgia for times where life was a little less opaque in narratives often brimming with incredible performances.
My first film of the strand Galore was no exception: a beautiful Australian ensemble drama set in the midst of the 2003 Canberra Bush fires, following characters Billie and Laura through their last summer together as school kids. Yet don’t be fooled into thinking this is a re –hashed episode of ‘Neighbours’, with director Rhys Graham taking a more nuanced approach in exploring the temperamental nature of the teenage mind, creating painfully realistic teenage relationships and tackling issues of responsibility and infidelity, which the two young women must overcome before the metaphorical bushfires of adulthood engulf them both.
As with any teen film casting is often key and the performance of the core leads Ashleigh Cummings and Lily Sullivan are brave and believable, with strong supporting turns from Toby Wallace and Aliki Mantagi as the troubled males of the group, periphery characters that become crucial to the central conflict. While all of the characters in Galore are lost and facing their own internal struggles, perhaps the most beautiful moments are when they bond in the gaussian blur of late night parties, open roads and warm interiors, with DOP Stephen Duscio and director Graham combing their talents (and the Australian landscape) to represent the complex and painful lives of teen relationships.
When parties and lens – flares kisses become replaced with impending tragedy, the film takes a serious turn in which the abilities of the actors send shudders down your spine. Its borderline ‘weepie’ fodder but made all the more effective by the early character interactions, where every dialogue is significant and every action has a consequence. While in many was the film follows the same structural formula as many American teen movies, its distinct style, sincerity and performances touch a nerve and at times transcend cliché.
While the bush fire framing device couldn’t foregrounded anymore as an overarching metaphor, the collision between nature and youth becomes relevant in Galore, as characters try to run, hide and deny the encroaching inevitability of destructive events, as time conspires against them and friendships dissolve under the stress. What rises from this is an immediacy and spontaneity, channelled in the style, captured by the actors and staged skilfully until the tragic finale. If Galore doesn’t produce even the tiniest remnant of personal nostalgia, then you’re probably a little dead inside already.
As a decisive example of powerful, emotive filmmaker within ‘teen cinema’ Galore is a refreshing departure from sardonic humour, snappy Gilmore Girls dialogue and ‘banana phones’ (just kidding).
Director: Rhys Graham
Writer: Rhys Graham (screenplay)
Stars: Ashleigh Cummings, Lily Sullivan, Toby Wallace
Runtime: 103 min