Of an Age review: This Australian film is a modern queer classic | melbourne international film festival

CInema might have progressed beyond burying her homosexuals, but that doesn’t mean she can’t assign them a fate worse than death: languishing for life. This is so prevalent in the culture that it has its own term: strange longing, a painful, all-consuming desire in which years of repression spill over into an infatuation so forbidden, so unquenchable, that the only way to ease its pains is by penetration. a peach.

Launching into this lineage is Macedonian-Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski’s Of an Age, a decade-spanning odyssey of teenage kicks and their prolonged aftershocks. And I do mean rushing: From the start, Stolevski’s direction possesses the same frenetic kinetic as the Safdie brothers, inducing all the stomach-churning anxiety of Uncut Gems, and then some.

Unlike that movie, the stakes here are much lower, though it probably doesn’t seem that way to the teenage couple in the background: Nikola (Elias Anton, seen in Barracuda) and his friend Ebony (a spectacularly spoiled brat). Hattie Hook, in her debut feature). They’re meant to compete in a local dance competition, except Ebony woke up on a beach somewhere in Melbourne after an all-night brawl that involved, in her own terms, just “a dash” of speed.

It’s 1999, which means she has to hunt for coins to make a desperate call to Nikola, who’s busy cutting shapes in his family’s garage. Also, it’s 7:30 am and they’re waking up half the city with their anguished howls on the line.

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Before long, a plan is hatched involving Ebony’s cool older brother Adam (Dance Academy’s Thom Green), leading Nikola to find Ebony, the two men forming an unlikely search party. But something changes in that impulse: there is an ease that neither could have expected. They talk about books, movies, girls, until Adam cleverly blurts out that his ex was a guy. (He is later shown listening to Tori Amos with a poster of Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in her bedroom, so the confession was probably unnecessary, but sweet nonetheless.)

Nothing comes of it in that instant, and nothing will come of it for a painfully long time, but Nikola’s thoughts are suddenly churning with a whirlwind of hidden desires. The camera sneaks glances at Adam’s muscles, just as Nikola does; this summer’s day seems to stretch endlessly on the horizon as they pass each other again and again, each time almost but not quite, acting on their barely sublimated impulses.

As if that wasn’t agonizing enough, they only have 24 hours to make it happen, mirroring the temporal challenge set by another modern classic of queer longing: Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, where two strangers share a brief and surprising encounter before they must take separate paths. . Adam is about to fly off to study in South America, but the expiration date on any potential romance only makes it all the more stormy.

For a movie that begins so frenetically, any moment of stillness automatically packs a punch to the gut, whether it’s the sticky, sobering comedown of a crush or the debilitating awkwardness that being in love can bring. Golevski is a master of sustained tension: the car, so often a means of escape, can also become a suffocation silo, as in one of Adam and Nikola’s many farewells. “It was really nice to meet you…I guess,” Nikola stammers, birdsong cutting through a pregnant pause. “Have a safe and fresh Ph.D.”

I’m not going to spoil the moment of sweet relief: suffice it to say that someone in the audience at the opening night screening at the Melbourne international film festival audibly whispered “yes!” when the film finally gave in to the primal impulses of its characters under a lightning sky. That moment is etched in the minds of both parties, even when they meet again 11 years later. As the memory comes to the fore, so does the pain of the intervening decade, the gap between adolescent fantasy and the crushing weight of reality widens.

So, a bait and a switch: What begins as a strange coming-of-age tale turns into a meditation on aging itself; how decisions made in one fateful summer can last well into adulthood. From the bifurcated structure of an Era, divided between 1999 and 2010, we are tempted to discern each character’s evolution – or lack thereof; as adults, Ebony is still mouthy, Nikola is still a mess, and Adam is still frustratingly out of his league.

In other hands, Of an Age might have been witty or indulgent, but Stolevski imbues his characters with such vivid specificity that we can’t help but get carried away.

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