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3 reviews, 42 user ratings

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Beneath Clouds
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by John Smith

"High Above the 'Fence'."
4 stars

"Beneath Clouds" is thoroughly superior to it's big-budget counterpart "Rabbit-Proof Fence".

Not that I'm saying that the two films should be bracketed as one because they deal with Aboriginal Australian subject matter. Indeed, one of the highlights of this excellent film is that it demonstrates how much more there is to that subject area than socio-political cries in the dark.

"Beneath Clouds" benefits from having an indigenous writer-director, Ivan Sen. Unlike Phillip Noyce, Sen isn't making a film from a white point of view, chock-a-block with apologies and sentimentalism. His characters aren't placards, they're real people, who's Aboriginality is the solid base to their identities, but not the cause and effect of their entire beings. As a result, the film has a universality - it is never mired in the parochial concerns of its setting.

Lena (Wee Waa local Dannielle Hall) longs to escape her dreary world. From a few old photos and anecdotes, she's constructed a fantasy world that waits for her arrival. That world is Ireland, where her father was born, and where there are no flies, drunken stepfathers or incarcerated brothers. If she can get as far as Sydney, and locate her father, she may end up living amongst her dreams.

Reality hits when she's off vomiting up a greasy breakfast, and ends up missing the Sydney bus. Stranded at a rest stop, she meets up with Vaughn (charismatic Damian Pitt), who's escaped from a detention centre to visit his dying mother.

At first tentative towards each other, the pair develop a trust, if not an agreement, which grows with every incident. Vaughn rescues Lena from a car-bound pair of thugs, and she comes to his aid when police have him cornered.

But both characters are challenging, real and complex. They don't become heroes, martyrs or angels, they struggle with themselves and force us to struggle with them too. When they talk, they don't seem to know where their points of view are coming from, and don't necessarily swallow the stock lines their communities tell them they should. Lena pulls Vaughn up over land ownership, asking him why his people gave it up so easily. Vaughn notices an older gay guy's interest, and, fascinated, doesn't know quite how to react.

Sen's script follows a basic heroes journey model, and at times, the bones of the structure are visible. The rythym of walking, getting in cars, getting out, talking, walking, getting in cars ... does become a little mechanic, but then, what else happens when you walk from Moree to Sydney? Thankfully, Sen hasn't tried to jazz things up with artificial drama.

The guts of the movie is in the dynamic between Lena and Vaughn. Played by first-time actors plucked from the streets by Sen, they - the characters and the actors - are real marvels. Politically engaged without ever being tendentious, and hopeful for a better future despite never knowing any better, we don't ever know what to expect from them, except honesty.

Though some condescending reviewers have praised Sen's sparing use of dialogue, concentrating instead on the facial expressions of his inexperienced cast, Moffitt and Pitt give outstanding performances. They act from the heart and the head, drawing on real experience and emotion, and make the contrived, try-hard antics of professional young Australian actors, say, the cast of "The Secret Life Of Us", look like something out of the NIDA Christmas Revue.

For anyone wanting a richer understanding of an under-reported part of Australian life, this is the film to see. Intimate, touching and true, it leaves it's grandstanding bigger-budget cousins for dead, and stands squarely as an intelligently made film first, and a national commentary second, if at all.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5828&reviewer=305
originally posted: 05/20/02 01:01:57
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For more in the Australian series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/12/16 Dawson Fisher Amazing movie, so real! 5 stars
11/02/15 Tuco spellbinding and resonant , Bravo ! 5 stars
6/21/15 fabulous this film is great as it shows stereotypes aboriginals face 4 stars
8/29/10 coon dumb niggers 1 stars
4/07/10 james terrible movie, dialogue almost put me to sleep and had boring roles and vague ending 1 stars
11/15/07 janelle pitt thats my big brother and i think it is a great film and interesting to watch 5 stars
4/13/07 aglak 22 brilliant film,brilliants actors,beautiful. 5 stars
1/30/07 David fantastic scenes and good actors but could have had a better ending 4 stars
5/29/06 casey boring and sleepworthy but good images and actors 2 stars
5/10/06 jessica great film with powerful messages about trust and identity 5 stars
12/13/05 Noemi Cortejosa Beneath Clouds is a film on Aboriginal identity: Vaughn accepts it, Lena does not 5 stars
11/29/05 Thomas Well done. Really reaches out 5 stars
10/04/05 mark sorensen reality hits home hard 5 stars
9/18/05 Kelly Really, Really bad 1 stars
8/14/05 kailey james it great but the ending isn't 4 stars
1/22/05 Elizabeth Fale Excellent Movie I Love It 5 stars
12/19/04 Ian Henderson One of the best films to come out of Australia recently. 5 stars
7/18/04 cherie hargrave this is very good and its a movie i will never forget 5 stars
4/29/04 - i love it, and its real life not some pitty story. 5 stars
4/20/04 jess booby its fantastic 5 stars
4/14/04 Dylan Williams Excellent Film 4 stars
3/11/04 Raman Arora The movie is very good and emotional, has lot of humour and facts 4 stars
2/03/04 Mandamullin a moving film that juxtaposed country drama and deep realism 5 stars
11/11/03 seb narwal A great movie 5 stars
9/11/03 Liz Innovatively disturbing 5 stars
8/13/03 Cherie Gardiner it was a very good movie cause the car was my sisters boyfriends 5 stars
5/27/03 daniel kane OWEN WAS GREAT 5 stars
5/25/03 Jimi A subtle beauty 5 stars
5/03/03 sami unreal fav movie gotta see it! 5 stars
12/21/02 Lucinda Brilliant! Sven is a genius! 5 stars
11/03/02 robi awesome, touching, objective, deep 5 stars
9/28/02 Peter Sherlock Very very good. An Oz classic. Authentic. Thought-provoking long after. 5 stars
9/25/02 kahlia blair this at the moment is my fave film 5 stars
8/28/02 viking The best Aussie movie of 2002 5 stars
8/22/02 Kjaramindi Dennison It was good 5 stars
8/19/02 vivien xeros the best film i have seen this century 5 stars
8/18/02 Andrew Trigger Fantastic! 5 stars
8/07/02 Michelle Crowther Leaves you feeling like you've been through an industrial wringer. Stunning, fantastic 5 stars
8/05/02 janelle pitt damian is my oldest brother and i'm proud of him 5 stars
6/27/02 Edmond Nixon I intend to follow Sen's upcoming work 5 stars
5/30/02 ^Elendil^ A perceptive and beautiful film. A lot to think about. 5 stars
5/27/02 Ant A film that is both hypnotic and authentic, this is a great and important film. 5 stars
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  14-Jan-2002 (NR)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2010



Directed by
  Ivan Sen

Written by
  Ivan Sen

  Tristan Bancks
  Danielle Hall
  Damian Pitt

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