Opening June 19
''In a few weeks bushfires are going to sweep through here. Just about everyone we know is going to lose their house in the fire.''
Billie and Laura, two reckless teenage best friends, share everything, except for Billie's biggest secret; she's crazy in love with Laura's boyfriend.
So announces Billie (Ashleigh Cummings) as Rhys Graham's Galore opens. Shot in Canberra at the end of 2012 and set in the days leading up to the 2003 bushfires, this foreshadowing of a real drama to come is important context against which Graham's narrative plays out.
His film exists in the emotional landscape of the teenager, where sex and love and friendship and boredom carry the high stakes that the young place on them. There will be teen drama, but then there will be the fire.
Puberty Blues star Cummings and Lily Sullivan star respectively as young friends Billie and Laura, who spend their summer with Laura's boyfriend Danny (Toby Wallace) and Billie's social worker mother's latest project, troubled youth Isaac (Aliki Matangi).
Against their quiet suburban backdrop, the teens work, go to parties, experience sex and desire, and hide and reveal secrets.
Galore is beautiful. Competently made, exquisite-looking, truly engaging.
Graham worked with cinematographer Stefan Duscio on a very particular visual aesthetic for Galore. Their cameras move in close for scenes with the teenage lovers to let audiences share the sense of claustrophobic closeness of new love, and they borrowed expensive widescreen lenses from Germany to get the warmth in their landscapes.
The tones throughout are warm, as if the whole film was shot at sunset.
The landscapes will be familiar to readers of this paper, yet their beauty seems fresh when seen up on the big screen.
The young performers are all strong – their faces may be familiar from other Australian productions like Rake or Neighbours – and under Graham's direction they are natural and believable. Most notable is his off-the-street casting of newcomer Matangi in a quiet role that hints at depth.
But the other character is the city in which it is filmed. Graham is not making a travelogue here; none of the tourist-trap-tropes appear. Canberrans will recognise locations – the Gungahlin skate park, Scrivener Dam, Kingsley's Chicken – which mean something to us but just add colour to a film that is about the landscape that exists between the teens.
Graham's screenplay and his pacing of the film as director are deliberately paced. Some grown-ups might be frustrated by the teen characters' actions and motivations, but that sounds like real life to me.
Building the canvas upon which Graham works is a fecund soundscape by Flynn Wheeler and Christopher O'Young.