On the precipice of a new era

Bruce Beres­ford’s new film re­flects on a city and a way of life on the brink of change, writes

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Home - - FRONT PAGE - More Ladies In Black opens in cin­e­mas on Septem­ber 20

When peo­ple be­come nos­tal­gic about a golden pe­riod in Aus­tralian so­ci­ety, in­evitably they’re re­fer­ring to the 1950s. But Syd­ney at that time was on the brink of mas­sive so­cial change sparked by changed ex­pec­ta­tions of the ex­ist­ing pop­u­la­tion fol­low­ing the war years and waves of post-war mi­gra­tion, largely from Europe.

But while for older, more estab­lished gen­er­a­tions, a three-bed­room brick house in the sub­urbs was the pin­na­cle of the Aus­tralian dream, younger peo­ple and new ar­rivals had a very dif­fer­ent agenda. This im­mi­nent change in the way we live is the back­drop for di­rec­tor Bruce Beres­ford’s lat­est film, Ladies In Black.

Chang­ing fash­ion

Fo­cused on the lives of four women work­ing at the fic­ti­tious Goode’s depart­ment store (loosely based on David Jones), it’s a comin­gof-age story for young Lisa (An­gourie Rice), a clever girl from the sub­urbs who spends her sum­mer break work­ing in the fash­ion depart­ment as she awaits the out­come of her univer­sity ap­pli­ca­tion.

She soon comes to the at­ten­tion of cou­ture fash­ion sales­woman Magda (Ju­lia Or­mond), a mi­grant from Slove­nia with plenty of Euro­pean charm and style who in­tro­duces Lisa to a very dif­fer­ent way of liv­ing.

Pro­duc­tion de­signer for Ladies In Black, Felic­ity Ab­bott, says the houses of each char­ac­ter were cho­sen to re­flect their back­ground — and their view of the world.

“With Lisa’s house, I was look­ing to por­tray that post-war aus­tere qual­ity, which was very much the tone of pre-1960s Aus­tralia, as op­posed to the house we chose for the Euro­peans, which was much more re­flec­tive of where they had come from and where they would choose to live,” Felic­ity says.

Lo­ca­tion scouts used two red-brick houses in the in­ner west to cap­ture Lisa’s home life with her par­ents. Char­ac­terised by a se­ries of closed-off rooms with no con­nec­tion to the back­yard, the houses are the an­tithe­sis of the open-plan way most of us want to live to­day.

“Those homes were the bench­mark for what the av­er­age fam­ily would as­pire to — which would be equally too ex­pen­sive and un­live­able these days,” Felic­ity says.

The house Magda shares with her Hun­gar­ian hus­band Ste­fan (Vin­cent Perez) is the op­po­site — a gra­cious prop­erty nes­tled among trees near Syd­ney Har­bour.

Felic­ity says they pulled off a mi­nor coup scor­ing au­thor May Gibbs’ house Nut­cote for Magda and Ste­fan’s home — helped some­what by the af­fec­tion for the book by Madeleine St John that the film is based on.

“It is very much that idea of Euro­peans cre­at­ing a new life in Aus­tralia at that time,” Felic­ity says. “It’s airy and it cap­tures that re­la­tion­ship with Syd­ney Har­bour.”

This scene where Magda trans­forms Lisa was shot at Nut­cote. The film crew set up a ros­trum in the neigh­bours’ yard to get enough light in.

Lisa’s mother (Susie Porter) pre­pares din­ner in a kitchen typ­i­cal of 1950s Syd­ney. Sep­a­rate rooms are a far cry from the open-plan homes we pre­fer to­day.

Lisa (cen­tre) works at Goode’s depart­ment store, which is loosely based on David Jones.

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