When a marine biologist has to rush to her mother’s side after a stroke she relives the memories of how it was her mother that began her love affair with the ocean.
My love affair with the work of Australian author Tim Winton began way back in my first year in High School. My Year 7 English teacher introduced us to Lochie Leonard and the rest as they say is history. Up until that point I had always read young adult novels written by Americans and the English – but suddenly I was reading something that was very Aussie where a cop car was called a paddy wagon and the main character played Aussie Rules instead of soccer or gridiron.
From there my love of Winton’s work grew and grew. Being a coastal/country kid meant I had an even deeper understanding of the themes in Winton’s work and even today whenever I am travelling overseas I take a Tim Winton novel with me to read – call my crazy but it always feels like I am taking a small piece of Australia with me when I do so.
Of course Winton’s writing has easily transferred into the film adaptions of his novels as well. Sit down and watch Breath or The Turning and there is always something uniquely Australian about those films and that is certainly the case with director Robert Connolly’s (The Dry) adaption of Blueback. The mere fact that I even get to say that is like a joyous occasion for me because Connolly is one of my favourite filmmakers so him directing Winton’s work feels like a marriage in heaven for me.
Blueback tells the story of Abby (Mia Wasikowska – Alice In Wonderland) a marine biologist determined to do what she can to protect Australia’s waterways. But while she is investigating what is causing a reef to bleach she receives a call to return back to Western Australia because her mother has had a stroke.
As Abby tries desperately to get her mother to remember her past and to speak again the audience is taken on a journey with where young Abby (Ariel Donoghue – Wolf Like Me) and teenage Abby (newcomer Ilsa Fogg) are introduced to the beauty of Australia’s oceans by her mother Dora (Radha Mitchell – Silent Hill).
After the death of her pearl-diving husband Dora has started a campaign to save the Bay that she calls home. Whether that means checking in on the local abalone fisherman (Eric Bana – The Dry) to make sure he isn’t over-fishing or taking on a local developer (Erik Thomson – Somersault) who wants to destroy the bay there is no fight to big for her.
Dora’s love for the ocean is soon handed down to Abby, especially after she discovers a Blue Groper she decides to call Blueback, but there is still tension between mother and daughter especially around what it means to be an activist and Abby wanting to leave the Bay to further her studies.
I found Blueback to be one of those uniquely Australian storiesthat I mentioned earlier that Winton is famous for. Only a person that has spent time along Australia’s coastline could come up with a film like Blueback that genuinely brings the love of coastal creatures and the coastal lifestyle to the big screen. Perhaps the biggest sign that both Winton and Connolly were serious about making this a natural film is that they didn’t take the Hollywood path and decide to make ‘Blueback’ a whale or a dolphin. Let’s be honest a Blue Groper is not the most visually beautiful creature yet somehow together these two men make the relationship between a teenager girl and Blueback the central piece to a film that has a much deeper meaning.
Hidden away between the environmental storyline and the stunningly beautiful way in which cinematographers Andrew Commis (Babyteeth) and Rick Rifici (Breath) capture the Australian coastline is a coming of age story about finding your own identity. Abby’s story here is one that I found to be deeply meaningful and at times painful. Her love affair with the ocean doesn’t just come about because her mother also loved it it becomes part of her way to escape the pain of what happened to her father and it becomes a way that she can bond with the boy that she likes – Briggs (Clarence Ryan – Cleverman).
Like I said earlier the tale told here is uniquely Australian but if you replace the ocean with any other kind of passion – art, sport etc – and Abby’s story becomes a universal one. The key element to this story is that Dora doesn’t think that Abby loves the ocean the same way she does because she is willing to leave it – what she doesn’t understand that she needs to leave it for awhile in a bid to eventually save it. We have all been in those situations where a parent doesn’t understand our motivations or goals so this at the end of the day is a film that most people should be able to identify with.
When it comes to the performances in this film Radha Mitchell is brilliant. Her natural ability to become a character works well here and some of her more touching scenes with Mia Wasikowska are truly memorable. Credit must also be paid to Eric Bana who takes on a much smaller role in this film than he normally would – even so he is a stand out as one of the film’s more memborable characters – while young star Ilsa Fogg simply must come to the attention of some of the voters for film awards come Australian film award season. She has a huge career ahead of her.
As usual I have found myself deeply impressed by a Robert Connolly film. His body of work must certainly mean that he is one of our country’s most important filmmakers and Blueback goes to show that he can even make what is pretty much a family film a must see. Maybe I am biased because of my love for Winton and Connolly’s work in general but I completely fell in love with this film.