Blessed


Directed by: Ana Kokkinos
Written by:Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas
Starring: Frances O’Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-Lee Furness, Sophie Lowe, Talsma Walton, Costas Kilias
Released: September 10, 2009
Grade: B+

Australian director Ana Kokkinos has made two full length features previous to this.  Released in 1998, Head On was the story of a Greek teenager living in Melbourne who struggled to find his identity.  It featured a courageous performance from Alex Dimitriades and earned nine AFI Award nominations.  Yes, it was confronting but yes, it was a great film.

Eight years later, Kokkinos’ follow up was The Book Of Revelation.  Just as shocking, it told the tale of a male dancer (played by Tom Long) who was kidnapped and sexually abused by three masked women.  I remember hearing Kokkinos speak about her movie at the 2006 Brisbane International Film Festival but there was nothing she could say to change my perspective.  I hated the film.

And now we return to the current day and age to speak about Kokkinos’ third film – Blessed.  I was a little apprehensive before I saw it but I can now safely report that it’s a very good film.  Not quite as good as Head On but powerful nevertheless.

Her first two films focused on the vulnerability of men but Kokkinos has gone for something different this time around.  Blessed looks at different relationships that children share with their mothers.  It’s based on the play Who’s Afraid Of The Working Class? which was first performed in Melbourne in 1998.

In this cinematic adaptation, the stories of five different families are told.  I won’t go into a lot of detail but suffice to say that they all have their troubles.  The most forceful story is that of a neglectful mother who cannot cope with her two young kids.  Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park) plays the mum and her passionate performance left me quite shaken by film’s end.  Also great is Miranda Otto (In My Father’s Den) who plays a misguided poker machine addict.

Instead of telling the story in a more conventional manner, the film has been split into two distinct halves.  The first half focuses on the children and the second half focuses on the mothers.  It’s a creative idea but I don’t know if it helps in anyway.  Given that some characters are not developed until well into the movie, it took a while for it to leave an “impact”.  The emotion packed finale is worth the wait though.

Blessed boasts a strong ensemble cast and I must give credit to the younger performers who are all superb.  There’s a memorable conversation early on between a young boy (played by Harrison Gilbertson) and an elderly woman (played by Monica Maughan) that illustrates my point.

With a reflective score from Cezary Skubiszewski (Two Hands), Blessed will probably affect people in different ways.  How you see each character will differ depending on your own upbringing and experiences.  Whatever your thoughts, I see this as yet another top film in a year of outstanding Australian cinema.