The fifth in a “7 Up” – like documentary series directed by Gillian Armstrong since 1976, “Love Lust & Lies” is an entertaining and unflinchingly honest return to the lives of three working – class Adelaide women and their extended families. Now aged 47, Armstrong’s subjects speak with amazing candor about love, marriage, divorce, motherhood and that most fundamental human desire: the pursuit of happiness. Packaged with a wealth of footage from previous installments to produce a highly satisfying standalone viewing experience, this universally accessible docu is a perfect fit for fests and specialized nets.
Unlike Michael Apted’s influential “Up” project, Armstrong’s series evolved almost accidentally. “Smokes and Lollies” (1976), Armstrong’s first paid directing assignment, was envisaged as a one-off study of 14-year-old suburban girls Josie, Kerry and Diana talking about family, school, sex and careers. Armstrong’s continued interest in her subjects prompted follow-ups “Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better” (1980), “Bingo, Bridesmaids and Braces” (1988) and “Not Fourteen Again” (1996). The series’ great many admirers will be pleased that a text card in “Not Fourteen Again” announcing it as the final installment has proved incorrect.
Much has changed in the intervening 14 years, especially for Josie and Diana. A hellcat at 14 who married Keith at 17 and is now a live-wire grandmother, Diana has left Keith for Fury, a childhood friend seen fleetingly in an excerpt from “Smokes and Lollies.” With astonishing bravery, Diana reveals a family secret common to all societies yet hardly ever discussed openly.
An unwed mother at 15 and also now a grandmother, Josie has survived two divorces and is happily married to Erik, who, like Fury, is a longstanding friend. The most introspective of the trio, Josie reflects with heartbreaking honesty on how the legacy of her low self-esteem and family problems in teenage years has impacted on her difficult relationship with eldest daughter Rebecca.
Kerry remains the most settled of the trio. Married to Neil for more than 20 years and a mother of two, she has helped her husband through hard times caused by a serious work injury and has taken courses in healing and inner peace. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
With similarly frank testimony from the men and children in the women’s lives, the message here is that there is nothing ordinary about “ordinary people,” and viewers everywhere will relate to the highs and lows of the lives of the three women.
Expertly edited by Nicholas Beauman, whose collaboration with Armstrong began with “My Brilliant Career” (1979) and includes the vast majority of her subsequent works, “Love Lust & Lies” finds Armstrong playing a more significant onscreen role than before, with excellent results. Anyone familiar with the series likely will hope it doesn’t end here.
Intuitive camera work by Paul Costello doesn’t miss a thing, and Cezary Skubiszewski’s score is elegant and simple. The rest of technical work is first class. Released theatrically May 13 in Oz, the pic screens on government broadcaster ABC later in the year.