Crowd pleaser

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

AF­TER pay­ing his dues in chil­dren’s television as a teenage surfer in Blue Wa­ter High , Khan Chit­ten­den is emerg­ing as one of our more in­ter­est­ing movie ac­tors. He has al­ready been seen in the fea­ture film The Cater­pil­lar Wish , in which he plays the trou­bled hero­ine’s school­boy lover, and he will soon be seen as a denizen of Syd­ney’s west­ern sub­urbs in West .

But his best part to date is in Club­land, a movie that sets out with a kind of dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion to please au­di­ences. And why not, when so many Aus­tralian films th­ese days, good or bad, are hardly au­di­ence- friendly.

Chit­ten­den plays Tim Dwight, a pleas­ant, rather with­drawn and shy young man who is dom­i­nated by the women in his life, but mainly by his aw­ful mother, Jean ( Brenda Blethyn).

Tim and his dis­abled brother, Mark, live with Jean some­where in Syd­ney’s west. He’s de­ter­mined to es­tab­lish him­self in the mov­ing busi­ness and is pay­ing off a van. But Jean seems de­ter­mined to cur­tail his free­dom.

Jean is a dis­ap­pointed wo­man. She used to be Some­body ( to quote Mar­lon Brando); in her na­tive Eng­land she was a pop­u­lar co­me­dian, pre­sum­ably in the Hat­tie Jac­ques league. Framed pho­to­graphs on her man­tel­piece in­di­cate that she once hob­nobbed with the best of them: More­cambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper and Benny Hill.

But she fell in love with John, an Aus­tralian singer ( played with con­sid­er­able charm by Frankie J. Holden), mar­ried him and gave up her ca­reer to fol­low him to Syd­ney. John was a one­hit won­der and Jean was un­able to sus­tain her ca­reer, apart from the oc­ca­sional club book­ing for her ex­cru­ci­at­ingly bad com­edy rou­tine. The cou­ple di­vorced. John is now a su­per­mar­ket se­cu­rity guard and, with her sons grown up, Jean wants to make a come­back.

Keith Thompson’s screen­play and Cherie Nowlan’s di­rec­tion are fine on de­tails such as th­ese. The char­ac­ters in­habit a well de­scribed, thor­oughly con­vinc­ing en­vi­ron­ment, which is es­sen­tial if we’re to be­lieve in them and even come to em­brace them, which is what the film wants us to do.

Cast­ing Blethyn as Jean was adroit as well as risky. She has been known to give ex­ag­ger­ated por­tray­als in the past of women sim­i­lar to Jean Dwight: her per­pet­ual screech­ing in Mike Leigh’s Se­crets and Lies was very hard to take. For a while it seems she’ll over­play Jean as well, turn­ing this frus­trated wo­man into an over­bear­ing mon­ster.

Thank­fully, she has some ef­fec­tive, qui­eter mo­ments and, by the end, you al­most care about her while at the same time sym­pa­this­ing with her long- suf­fer­ing son.

Along­side the story of Jean’s show­busi­ness come­back is the story of Tim’s first real love af­fair. Her name is Jill, played by tal­ented new­comer Emma Booth. Tim meets Jill and her flat­mate Kelly ( Katie Wall) when he moves their furniture to a new house. They’re flir­ta­tious, out­spo­ken girls, far more ag­gres­sive sex­u­ally than he is.

Some­how, a re­la­tion­ship with Jill be­gins and it blos­soms into love. Their love scenes are frank and in­ti­mate and, thanks to the lovely per­for­mances of the young ac­tors, they come across as truth­ful and touch­ing.

The tex­ture of the film is quite rich and all the char­ac­ters, even pe­riph­eral ones, are sharply etched. The com­bi­na­tion of feel- good com­edy and tear- jerk­ing drama is well man­aged, if a touch cal­cu­lated, and most of the cast are very good in­deed, with Holden mak­ing the most of his small role as Tim’s fail­ure of a fa­ther.

The one weak spot is the char­ac­ter of the brother, Mark, an oddly con­ceived role that presents ac­tor Richard Wil­son with a chal­lenge he’s not eas­ily able to sur­mount. Apart from this, Club­land is some­thing of a charmer and cer­tainly one of the bet­ter Aus­tralian films around at the mo­ment.

* * * LIKE Jean Dwight, Miss Kruger ( Mon­ica Bleib­treu) in the Ger­man film Four Min­utes is a per­fec­tion­ist de­ter­mined to get her own way in all things. This for­mi­da­ble old wo­man, now in her 80s, has been work­ing at a women’s prison in a Ger­man city since the Nazi era.

Th­ese days she teaches classical pi­ano to in­mates who re­ally aren’t very in­ter­ested in the kind of mu­sic Kruger in­sists on, so when she en­coun­ters the ob­vi­ously gifted Jenny ( Han­nah Herzsprung), her senses quicken.

Jenny is in prison for mur­der: she dis­mem­bered a man and has an ex­tremely vi­o­lent dis­po­si­tion. In an early scene, she bru­tally at­tacks and in­jures a sym­pa­thetic guard. Yet she plays the pi­ano like a vir­tu­oso, even though she prefers what Kruger calls ‘‘ Ne­gro mu­sic’’ to the clas­sics her iras­ci­ble teacher in­sists on.

Chris Kraus’s film con­cen­trates on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween th­ese two women and though the sub­ject mat­ter is grim, es­pe­cially in the early scenes, the qual­ity of the per­for­mances and the rigour of the film­mak­ing pre­vail.

Herzsprung, who played the pi­ano her­self in ev­ery scene, in­clud­ing those in which her hands are bound be­hind her back, gives a vi­brant, in­tense and painfully real per­for­mance as a young wo­man who faces a life­time be­hind bars.

Trapped: Khan Chit­ten­den, cen­tre, plays a young man dom­i­nated by his girl­friend ( Emma Booth) and mother ( Brenda Blethyn) in sub­ur­ban tale Club­land

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