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London Film Festival: “Blessed” is condescension in film format

Mark Farnsworth is currently reviewing selected films from the London Film Festival.

“Blessed,” adapted from the play “Who’s Afraid Of The Working Class,” should really be titled “Who’s Afraid Of A Single Narrative.” Instead of fleshing out one story from her pack of writers, director Ana Kokkinos over-indulges them all. The result is like an x-rated episode of “Neighbours” helmed by a crystal meth addict. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so dangerous.

It all starts promisingly enough. Dawn breaks, bathing a montage of sleeping teenagers in sunshine. How cute they are: angelic babes who look like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. They, like the movie, breathe silent potential. How wrong we are to think of them this way. We should have let sleeping dogs lie as this tranquil illusion is soon shattered as each of them wakes to do battle with their mothers, each other and the world as a whole.

Sadly, from here on in the movie quickly degenerates into contrived plot devices and lazy stereotypes. Set in Melbourne, “Blessed” follows these damaged kids over a gruelling 24-hour period. Katrina and Trisha drink Wild Horse Bourbon, bully ginger kids and shoplift. Daniel hates his mum and burgles old ladies. Orton and Stacey are living rough, looking like they’ve escaped from the set of “Near Dark.” Roo is having trouble with his sexuality.

blessed_02If you think the kids are messed up, you should meet their parents. Katrina’s mum Bianca is a gambling alcoholic, Daniel’s step dad is thieving the mortgage money and his mother, Tanya, ignores him. Trisha and Roo’s mum, Gina, uses religion as a crutch to deal with the grief of losing her husband, and favours her son over her daughter. Finally, Rhonda, the mother of Orton and Stacey, frequently neglects her children when a new man is around and dispenses all parental responsibility onto the state. Oh, and if we weren’t clear just what a bad mum she really is, Rhonda smokes when pregnant.

That’s not all; a grown man, James Parker, is also crowbarred into an already overcrowded plot, just so we realise we will always be someone’s child. James is an Aborigine, but, like all the other over elaborate narratives, this part of his story is reduced to mere sound bites, robbing us of any real emotional depth or insight into the darker recesses of Australia’s murky past.

“Blessed” does have its moments. With an outstanding cast featuring the likes of Miranda Otto, Frances O’Connor and Deborra-Lee Furness, how could it not? O’Connor’s Rhonda is infuriating, pitiful and sexy as she meets with her case manager, Gail. Furness’ Tanya conveys love for her child by simply resting her head on a doorframe. Sadly, these scenes are few and far between.

As “Blessed” lumbers to an end, it begins to crush itself under the weight of its own worthiness and the condescending treatment of its characters and audience. Why is there no balance? Why doesn’t one kid at least find solace in education? Doesn’t it fit with the filmmakers’ view of poor kids? Why is it that all working class mums in films like this feel the need to dance their angst or personal tragedy away?

When the inevitable bleak climax happens, it is so cheapened by a clumsy coincidence and the parent’s reaction that we must shake our heads with despair at the weak execution. This could be a moment to bring the audience down on its knees from emotion, but instead, one can only be glad that the film is drawing to a close.

“Blessed’s” repetitive use of music and montage render it little better than an extended charity advert. In fact, you should save your entrance fee and donate it to the NSPCC, or volunteer to aid your local school with reading instead of watching this film. Kokkinos would have done better by watching how “Fish Tank” or Samantha Morton’s semi-autobiographical “The Unloved” handles the working class – by not treating them as separate from society, but as human beings.