Aharrowing, ultra-realistic coming-of-age portrait of a group of tough teenage girls, “Only the Brave” is a new Australian film of astonishing, raw power. One-hour running time will limit theatrical prospects, but pic provides a bold calling card for director Ana Kokkinos.
Set in the seedy, barren outskirts of Melbourne, story centers on two working-class girls, Alex and Vicki, who live on the edge and are desperate to get out of their desolate, dead-end surroundings. Residing with her dad, Alex (Elena Mandalis) dreams of reuniting with her alcoholic mother, a singer who now lives in the North. The equally wild Vicki (Dora Kaskanis), who aspires to become a singer, is Alex’s pal and object of her growing and unsettling affection.
Sharply observant script relates the tragic spiral of events, at school and at home, that dooms Alex, Vicki and their clique of troubled teenagers. The harsh realism of physical fights at school and sexual abuse at home is contrasted with dreamy sequences, such as flashbacks of Alex’s mother or fantasies of finding her singing in another city.
Film has the novelty of portraying alienation and rites of passage among girls whose ethnic minority (Australians of Greek descent) accentuates their marginal positions and feelings. Dressed in heavy trench coats, these “bad” girls spend their time smoking dope, setting fire to hedges, hanging out at abandoned houses and deserted train stations — in short, engaging in behavioral patterns that, in U.S. movies, are strictly boys’ domain.
Though dominant tone is dark and brooding, there’s also tenderness, best exemplified in Alex’s relationship with her sensitive school teacher Kate (Moudo Davey), who encourages her literary talent and even begins to respond to her sexual yearnings. In film’s most lyrical scene, Vicki lays her head in Alex’s lap, aching for a caress that her terrified friend is afraid — or perhaps incapable — of giving.
Tech credits of the very low-budget 16mm effort are modest. But in congruence with her brilliantly naturalistic direction, Kokkinos imbues the picture with alert intelligence and depth, successfully resisting the more clinical strategy of American movies of the week.