Chronicling 24 hours in the lives of troubled teens, then replaying the same day from the viewpoints of their mothers, “Blessed” is a missile of raw emotion that hits some midflight turbulence and veers slightly off course before straightening out and hitting the target with considerable force. Helmer Ana Kokkinos’ unblinking, deeply compassionate study of the most primal of human relationships boasts an excellent cast led by Frances O’Connor as a wayward parent. A predominantly bleak tone makes critical support vital in attracting intelligent auds upon limited domestic release Sept. 10. Offshore niches are possible; fests should take a look.
Following the uneven 2007 psychodrama “The Book of Revelation,” Kokkinos gets back on track with the sort of brutally honest urban realism that marked her acclaimed early works, “Only the Brave” (1994) and “Head On” (1998), the latter of which also took place over an intense 24-hour period in Melbourne.
Adapted by four of the five writers behind the 1998 stage production “Who’s Afraid of the Working Class,” the pic delivers utterly convincing, non-sensational portraits of six young people in distress. First up is teenager Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson), who storms out of his home after being accused of theft by his mother. Breaking into a nearby house, the lad accidentally kills elderly occupant Laurel (Monica Maughan) after she attempts to show understanding and affection.
Somewhere else in bland suburbia, high schoolers Katrina (Sophie Lowe, excellent) and Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) skip class to swig alcohol and shoplift, eventually getting caught. Meanwhile, Trisha’s gay brother, Roo (Eamon Farren), visits a particularly vile pornographer posing as a talent scout.
Also at risk is Orton (Reef Ireland), a runaway tracked to the inner city by Stacey (Eva Lazzaro), his waif-like younger sister. Finding shelter in a goodwill clothing bin, Stacey tells him she has been abused by several of their mother’s boyfriends.
Although the first segment feels a touch overlong at 50 minutes, and a thread involving Laurel’s adopted adult son (Wayne Blair) isn’t always a smooth fit in the teenage arena, the pic shifts into top gear when the clock rewinds and the day plays out again through maternal eyes.
Viewers frustrated by O’Connor being kept offscreen thus far will be amply rewarded by her knockout perf as Rhonda, the embittered, heavily pregnant, welfare-dependent mother of Orton and Stacey. At a moment of almost unbearable sadness, the gifted thesp’s reaction is nothing short of spine-tingling.
Showing how parents and children can sometimes swap roles unless boundaries are clearly marked, Miranda Otto nails it as Bianca, a lonely gambler who wants to be a sister rather than a mother to Katrina. Casting couldn’t be better: Otto has the striking ability to look 28 one moment and 40 the next.
Playing more earthy types, Deborra-lee Furness is solid as Daniel’s dedicated working-class mother, Tanya, and Victoria Haralabidou memorably portrays Gina, a devoutly religious seamstress of migrant background who fears Roo may be the drowned teenager mentioned in news reports. As the only man, William McInnes registers as Tanya’s financially and emotionally barren husband, Peter.
Barely a word is spoken in a powerhouse final reel in which several storylines nearly overlap and a note of cautious optimism is raised.
Geoff Burton’s fluid handheld photography finds beauty in harsh physical and emotional environments. The most lasting impression is that of natural backlight forming an angelic halo around expressive young faces bathed in a soft amber glow. All other technical contributions are first class.