Del Kathryn Barton’s feature debut is a daring one
(MA15+) 101 minutes
The coming-of-age film is a genre that Australian writers and directors have embraced with fervor. At one point in the history of the industry, the story of the rite of passage was widespread enough to be read as a metaphor for the maturing of Australian cinema itself.
The latest example is a particularly ambitious feature debut directed and co-written by Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton. It’s an intimate psychological thriller filled with richly crafted dream and nightmare sequences that feature one of those very fashionable creatures, a dragon.
But unlike the murderous crew that composes Dragon House fire-breathing arsenal, this one is benign and very pretty. It’s studded with Swarovski crystals and adorned with a pair of shiny black lashes long and lush enough to sweep across the floor of a teenager’s bedroom.
His name is Zephyr, and he’s the imaginary soulmate of 12-year-old Blaze (Julia Savage), whose life changes forever when she witnesses a crime. On her way home from a store one afternoon via a lane in Sydney’s Paddington, she sees an argument break out between a well-dressed couple in front of her. She hides and continues to watch the man attack the woman before raping her and leaving her for dead. Blaze and his beloved father, Luke (Simon Baker), are drawn into the ensuing police investigation.
Barton said the story was inspired by a combination of research and personal experience, both her own and others she and co-writer Huna Amweero encountered while preparing their screenplay. It’s strong stuff, underpinned by Savage’s stellar work in the lead role. A poised and thoughtful preteen when she first meets, Blaze is so shocked by what she saw and her inability to stop the attack and help the woman that she is reduced to a state of guilty self-loathing. Luke does what he can to understand what she’s going through but in the end, he too is lost.