Powerhouse perfs by thesps Susie Porter and Linda Cropper propel this no-budgeter about a pair of women who share a mostly miserable existence. Something of an experiment, "Teesh & Trude" is social realism in the Mike Leigh tradition. It deserves to travel the fest circuit, with some commercial possibilities indicated, mostly ancillary.

Powerhouse perfs by top Aussie thesps Susie Porter and Linda Cropper propel this no-budgeter about a pair of put-upon women who share a mostly miserable existence. Something of an experiment, in that the film was produced as part of a film course at Perth’s Murdoch U., “Teesh & Trude” is social realism in the Mike Leigh tradition. It deserves to travel the fest circuit, with some commercial possibilities indicated, mostly ancillary.

Director Melanie Rodriga, formerly Melanie Read, made two features in her native New Zealand in the ’80s, “Trial Run” (1984) and “Send a Gorilla” (1988), and now lectures in Media Arts at Murdoch. Students took part in the production of “Teesh & Trude,” which was shot on digital video. Transfer to film is fine, with the heavily saturated colors suiting the stifling material.

Liteesha (Porter), known as Teesh, is a twentysomething unmarried mother who lives with her older friend Trude (Cropper) in a small two-bedroom flat in the suburbs of the West Australian capital. Both women are unemployed and their lives are spent watching soaps on daytime TV, smoking, arguing, and dealing with the men who hover around them.

Teesh has trouble controlling Kenny (Mason Richardson), her small son, and at times is driven to the point of violence by his chronic misbehavior. She resorts to drugging the child with a sleeping pill to get some peace.

Her boyfriend, Les (Jacob Allen), works in the supermarket in the local mall and is almost too good to be true — he loves Teesh and wants to marry her; plus, he’s more gentle than most of the oafish blokes around. But Teesh is saddled not only with a son but an abusive father (Bill McCluskey), who has just been released from prison.

Trude, meanwhile, is getting fed up with Rod (Peter Phelps), her inconsiderate builder boyfriend. She’s lent him money to set up his own business, but he’s too lazy to see anything through properly. To add to Trude’s woes, she’s been desperately trying to locate her ex-husband, who walked out on her when she was hopelessly hooked on booze and drugs years before, taking with him their two children.

Action unfolds during a single day when everything seems to be going wrong for the women. The toilet won’t flush, Teesh has her period, Kenny is more difficult than usual, her Dad shows up and shows no sign of leaving, and Trude’s ex, Gary (Igor Sas), chooses this moment to pay a surprise visit with her teenage children, 16-year-old Craig (Kazmir Sas) and 13-year-old Leila (Francoise Sas) who are shocked by the environment in which their mother is living; Craig is openly hostile, Leila more understanding and affectionate.

Though opened out with scenes in the mall or the building site where Rod is supposed to be working, pic never really escapes its theatrical origins. Still, it’s inventively shot, with intrusive hand-held jitters kept to a minimum, and Rodriga sensibly concentrates on the performances.

Porter as the basically sweet Teesh, gives a powerful performance as a woman carrying far too many burdens. Cropper, whose Trude is both sympathetic and frustrating, matches her co-star’s command. Of the men, Phelps creates a strong impression as the blustering, posturing Rod, who believes in treating his women badly. The Sas siblings are very good as Trude’s teenage children.

Production values are extremely modest.

Teesh & Trude

Australia

Production

A Screenwest-Lotteries Commission of West Australia, SBS Independent-Showtime Australia presentation of a Cecile B. Deux Mels production, made with the assistance of Murdoch U. (International sales: Cecile B. Deux Mels, North Perth.) Produced by Melissa Hasluck. Co-producer, Melanie Rodriga. Directed by Melanie Rodriga. Screenplay, Vanessa Lomma, based on the play by Wilson McCaskill.

Crew

Camera (color), Dale McCready, Rob Bygott; editor, Merlin Cornish; music, Tim Count, Keith Van Geyzel; production designer, Lawrie Cullen-Tait; art director, Kylie Hazell; costume designer, Christine Lynch; sound (Dolby), Scott Montgomery; assistant director, Paul Rogan; casting, Annie Murtagh-Monks. Reviewed at Brisbane Film Festival, July 18, 2002. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Liteesha (Teesh) - Susie Porter Trudy (Trude) - Linda Cropper Rod - Peter Phelps Les - Jacob Allen Bob - Bill McCluskey Kenny - Mason Richardson Gary - Igor Sas Craig - Kazmir Sas Leila - Francoise Sas
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