×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘West of Sunshine’

Fatherhood comes sharply into focus in the impressive feature debut of Aussie filmmaker Jason Raftopoulos.

Director:
Jason Raftopoulos
With:
Damian Hill, Ty Perham, Kat Stewart, Arthur Angel, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Faye Smythe, Eliza D’Souza, Liam Seymour, Christopher Laino, Kaarin Fairfax.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6567012/

Fatherhood gets an incisive examination in “West of Sunshine,” the short, sharp and rewarding feature debut of Australian writer-director Jason Raftopoulos. Set during one day in the life of a working-class Melbourne dad who’s forced to cart his young son around town while scrambling to pay gambling debts to a loan shark, this compact piece of Aussie social realism will appeal to discerning audiences and could find a profitable niche in local art houses. A small-scale film that’s very well performed by lesser-known actors and some non-professionals, “West of Sunshine” faces a challenge to break through theatrically in overseas markets (and doesn’t yet have domestic release plans), though its exposure at the Venice film festival should attract fest attention at least.

At the outset, all that’s known about Jim (Damian Hill) is that he drives an immaculately maintained 1970s muscle car and works for a courier company. He’s also $15,000 in the hole to Banos (Tony Nikolakopoulos), a fearsome loan shark who wants his cash by day’s end — or else. When asked by workmate Steve (Arthur Angel) how he’s going to settle the sizeable debt, Jimmy’s optimistic reply is “race two at Ballarat.” If his nag doesn’t win, there’s no plan B.

There’s also no plan B when Jim is reminded by ex-wife Karen (Faye Smythe) that school is on holiday and today he’s supposed to be minding their young son, Alex (Ty Perham, real-life stepson of Hill). With company rules preventing the boy from traveling in a work vehicle, Jim bundles his parcels and an unimpressed Alex into his beloved car and sets off on his rounds.

In lovely early scenes, Alex accompanies dad on deliveries to small factories and shops in Melbourne’s inner-city market district, where many owners and staff appear as themselves. A short sequence in which a tailor measures Alex for a shirt beautifully captures one of those moments in a child’s life when their view of the adult world has suddenly expanded.

These upbeat moments are neatly balanced by Jim’s increasingly desperate situation. Even when he wins a large amount of money, his crippling addiction to gambling rises to the surface, turning victory into an abysmal loss. As the clock winds down, he’s reduced to pathetically asking Steve for a loan. Eventually, Jim turns to Mel (Kat Stewart), an old friend whose drug-dealing operation represents Jim’s last and very risky chance to raise quick cash.

Arriving at a moment when parenting and child development are being closely analyzed and discussed, “West of Sunshine” is a timely and intelligent essay on the eternal theme of how fathers can both inspire and alienate their sons. One of the screenplay’s most pleasing aspects is the gradual release of information about Jim’s difficult childhood and the symbolic importance of his prized car. Whether he possesses the courage to break an intergenerational cycle of abandonment and disappointment and give Alex a better chance in life is the story’s potent emotional core.

Hill is terrific as a fundamentally decent guy whose weaknesses have snowballed to the point of placing his son in danger. Newcomer Perham gives a marvelously natural performance as a lad whose feels everything from deep shame to great love for his father during a day he’ll never forget.

Smoothly filmed by DP Thom Neal in back alleys and grungy urban locations, and snappily cut by editor Paul Rowe, “West of Sunshine” is only slightly let down by the overuse of music in its second half. Lisa Gerrard and James Orr’s eclectic, splendidly propulsive score is put to fine use in the early running. It’s laid on a tad thick in the closing stages, where fine acting and memorable dialogue don’t really need any assistance to make the emotional impact the film is striving for.

Popular on Variety

Venice Film Review: ‘West of Sunshine’

Reviewed at Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, Aug. 29, 2017. (In Venice Film Festival – Orrizonti.) Running time: 78 MIN.

Production: (Australia) A Screen Australia presentation of an Exile Entertainment production in association with Small Village Films. (International sales: Exile Entertainment, Melbourne.) Producers: Alexandros Ouzas, Jason Raftopoulos.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Jason Raftopoulos. Camera (color, widescreen): Thom Neal. Editor: Paul Rowe. Music: Lisa Gerrard, James Orr.

With: Damian Hill, Ty Perham, Kat Stewart, Arthur Angel, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Faye Smythe, Eliza D’Souza, Liam Seymour, Christopher Laino, Kaarin Fairfax.

More Film

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

  • Ted FarnsworthDeadline's Cocktails on the Croisette,

    Former MoviePass Chairman Ted Farnsworth Trying to Buy Failing Subscription Company

    Ted Farnsworth, the financier who helped set in motion MoviePass’s meteoric rise and precipitous fall, has submitted an offer to purchase the beleaguered subscription service and its parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. Financial terms of the offer were not disclosed, but Farnsworth, who served as Helios’ chairman and chief executive officer is also [...]

  • Billy Crystal Comedy 'Standing Up, Falling

    Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz Comedy 'Standing Up, Falling Down' Picked Up By Shout! Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

    Shout! Studios has acquired all North American rights to comedy feature “Standing Up, Falling Down,” starring Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz and Eloise Mumford. The theatrical release for the film, which debuted at Tribeca Film Festival, is slated for early next year. Schwartz, whose credits include “Parks & Recreation” and “Blue Iguana,” voices the title character [...]

  • Cocina Belleza

    San Sebastian: ‘Cocinar Belleza’s’ Sergio Piera, Toni Segarra Talk Culinary Art

    Cognoscenti of culinary documentaries relish how open the genre is, driving deep into technique, amazing spectators by revealing the profession’s depths. Rarely, however, does a documentary decide to sidestep the well-known beats of the genre, step back and capture a bigger picture that asks about the nature of beauty and art rather than culinary craftsmanship [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    ‘Hustlers’ Acquired for Germany by Fred Kogel’s New KKR-Backed Company

    Fred Kogel’s budding media powerhouse, backed by KKR but still without a name, has acquired “Hustlers” for Germany and Austria in an all-rights deal with STXfilms. The movie, starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, will be released in Germany via Universum Film on Dec. 5. The pic, about a group of enterprising strippers, premiered to [...]

  • Nina Wu Midi Z Un Certain

    Chinese Indie Films, Indian Fare Dominate Pingyao Festival Lineup

    Chinese indie films and Indian fare dominate the lineup of the Pingyao International Film Festival. The main selection for the festival’s third edition will include 28 world premieres, organizers revealed on Monday. The event will screen 52 films from 26 countries and territories, with all of them having their China debut. The opening film is [...]

  • 'Sound of Metal' Review: Riz Ahmed

    Toronto Film Review: 'Sound of Metal'

    “Sound of Metal” is a film with a potent, searing hook. It stars Riz Ahmed, who is such a sensational actor (just watch him in “Jason Bourne” or “Nightcrawler” or “The Sisters Brothers”), as Ruben, a punk-metal drummer, heavy on the tattoos and peroxide, who has been thrashing away as part of a caterwauling noise [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content