- Blind Company (Alkinos Tsilimidos, Australia, 2009)
I first discovered Tsilimidos' work with Tom White, a film that impressed me with it's beautiful visuals, humour and humanistic narrative. That film also changed the way I looked at the homeless. Coming soon after Candy and Little Fish, I didn't have high expectations for Em 4 Jay, a film about a couple of drug addicts. I was so over drug addicts and yet this film blew me out of the water. Again photographed by Toby Oliver, the visuals are just amazing but it's once again the deeply humanistic story-telling that won me over, and this remains my equal favourite Australian film. It may then be no surprise to hear that Blind Company was my most anticipated film at MIFF this year.
I never took much notice of Colin Friels until I saw him play the titular role in Tom White, in which he magnificently demonstrates frailty and an understated desperation. Once again he takes centre stage in Blind Company as Geoff Brewster, who is living in isolation at the family beach cottage, waiting for inevitable death. Geoff's quiet daily routine is thrown into turmoil when his nephew, Josh (Nick Barkla), arrives unannounced and consequently engages in antagonistic behaviour.
Tsilimidos is a competent and assured director. With Blind Company, he is in no hurry to reveal the secrets of its characters, but that shouldn't test the patience of the film's target audience. The story is basically a relationship slow-burn that reminds me a little of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's style of narrative in films like Climates or Three Monkeys.
The performances are, as expected, convincing. Friels is always good value and his role as a dying academic is full of ambiguity. Nick Barkla gets to show his range. He was completely convincing as the junky in Em 4 Jay. In Blind Company, he is almost as convincing as the Porsche-driving reckless son of privileged parents - somewhat a yuppy.
I presume it was Adam Arkapaw's cinematography on Julius Avery's excellent award-winning (Cannes Jury Prize, no less) Jerrycan that caught the eye of Tsilimidos. His camera work has a very Eastern European aesthetic about it. The outdoor shots are reminiscent of Christopher Doyle's beach scenes in Paranoid Park and have the strongest visuals.
Indoors, however, is a different matter, and while there is a reliance on natural light, the camera exposure often leaves characters in silhouette. The effect is to shroud the film in darkness which distances the audience. This is the single-most flaw in the film.
I spoke to the director briefly after the film and he confirmed that Toby Oliver was unavailable. Being the film's premiere screening and Alkinos being pre-occupied post-screening, and me being sick, I didn't get the opportunity to discuss further. There was to have been a Q&A session which didn't happen because the film ran late. Apparently there will be one at a future screening, which I will aim to attend.
Overall, the film is worth-seeing and another fine addition to the country's body of work. It's especially worth seeing as part of the director's body of work, even if it isn't his best film. Tom White and Em 4 Jay were always going to be hard to beat.