Do you sell tickets for an event, performance or venue?
Find out more about Eventfinda Ticketing.

MIFF Film Review: Mystery Road

Thursday 25 July 2013

MIFF Film Review: Mystery Road

The Melbourne International Film Festival 2013 opens its doors today, and industry professionals, movie buffs and cinemagoers all over Melbourne (and Australia) are abuzz with the excitement of this year’s program. Packed full of hundreds of incredible films from around the world and home, prepare for a feast of cinematic delight over the next seventeen days of the festival.

This year’s program highlights include International Panorama, Accent on Asia, Backbeat and Documentaries, as well as Australian Showcase, Italian Giallo, Arabic Filmic Voices and more!

One of the best ways to kick of a great ‘MIFF’ experience is with Australian film, Mystery Road, which opened the recent Sydney Film Festival 2013.

To many Australians, remote communities are just that: out of sight and out of mind. Director Iven Sen takes the spotlight with his latest film Mystery Road, and shines it directly on rural Australia, exposing to audiences the cycle of poverty, violence and supressed racism that still exists in this country.

Mystery Road follows Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), a local Indigenous detective in the remote outback community who has recently relocated back to his hometown from the city. His first case is thrust upon him as the body of a young teenage girl is discovered. This begins the investigation, which also prompts him to confront the dysfunctional relationship with his estranged daughter. As Jay delves deeper into the web of crime he comes up against locals unwilling to cooperate and nonchalant fellow police officers - played by Tony Barry and Hugo Weaving. Suspicions raised, feeling a target on his back, and bearing the brunt of malicious racism from both sides, Jay dives headfirst into his investigation with fervour, despite having no back up.

Sweeping aerial shots introduce audiences to the great expanse of the Australian outback, which in turn, sets the tone for the film and reinforces the isolation of rural settlements and the effect this has on communities. Sen doesn’t shy away from presenting the dark reality of some of these isolated towns; where unemployment is rife, women are the subject of sexual exploitation, and the only coping mechanism available comes in the form of drugs, alcohol and gambling, which rule and ruin the residents.

Sen has created a piece of cinema that is unique, frequently using silhouettes against the pre-dawn and post-dust to create a signature style for Mystery Road. Staging scenes in the dark of the outback plays on the illusory dangers many audiences believe of a rural landscape blanketed in night. Conjuring up images and stories of killer dingoes and stranded backpackers, this creates a sense of trepidation throughout the film, especially when the sun sets. This need for caution in the stark beauty of the dangerous twilight is pitted perfectly against the graphic reality of the impoverished and equally as dangerous town during the day. Jay, as an Aboriginal detective, seems to have immunity in the land to which he belongs, an immunity that may not be enough in the final scenes.

The script is superb, both to capture the dramatic and harsh landscape in correlation with the gritty lifestyle most of the characters lead, and to highlight the rugged beauty of the outback. Dialogue is authentic and typical of rural life, where monosyllables and catchphrases are considered conversation and everyone reads between the lines. Sen is a craftsman and model for one-man-band filmmaking, wearing the hats of writer, director, cinematographer, composer and editor. He is a true ‘Preditor’ for emerging filmmakers to aspire to, and who play many roles on productions. This all-immersive style however, may have contributed to the lost steam and pace towards the end. The murder-mystery, film-noir, western feels a little disjointed, and lags a little as it reaches the climax. The few holes in the storyline may leave some audiences trying to fit together the pieces of plot after the credits have rolled, however, the sense of hope balanced by the undercurrents of desperation and misery carry the film well.

The performance by Aaron Pedersen is what really makes this film great, bringing an enigmatic, dark comic depth to the character of Jay. Stand out performances by Hugo Weaving, Tony Barry and Ryan Kwanten tighten the film further to create searing tension between the rich and poor, corrupt and naïve, white and Aboriginal characters. In fact, all the performances are exceptional, the brilliant lines delivered by all actors with both punch and finesse.

Mystery Road is a must-see Australian contemporary thriller that rejects the reputation Australian films (and outback) have earned through knife wielding croc hunters, desolate backpackers and drag queens. Mystery Road will only screen once at MIFF, so get in the standby queue!

See it Friday 26th July 6:15pm, Forum Theatre.


- Chelsea Denny