Holidays on the River Yarra

(Leo Berkeley, Australia, 1991)


Holidays on the River Yarra is an artistically inclined teen movie. Among Australian films of 1991, it was selected (alongside Proof) for screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Although less lauded or remembered in its home country, it’s not hard to see why.

Director Leo Berkeley brings to this tale of disaffected suburban teenagers a purity and an underlying poetry which is reminiscent of some of the finest French films about adolescence, particularly those by Jacques Doillon (Petit frères, 1999). In Australian cinema it has an affinity with the prolific output of Bill Mousoulis.

Berkeley’s previous short films have portrayed strange, whimsical situations colouring drab, everyday life. His debut feature continues this style, but with a darker, bleaker outlook.

Mick (Luke Elliot) and Eddie (Craig Adams) are typical teenagers stuck in limbo between school days and the frightening adult world. They are conscripted by a tawdry, almost comic band of right-wing ‘freedom fighters’ planning an unlikely coup in Africa. The youths are blank, innocent, even angelic; but slowly they absorb and reflect the violent racist attitudes that are everywhere around them.

Gradually, the film focuses on Eddie, who experiences most acutely the alienation and loss of control which is his lot in life. The further he travels from everyday reality, the more he grasps at an impossible dream of escape and freedom – an endless holiday anywhere but on the River Yarra.

Holidays on the River Yarra has its share of clumsily handled and overstated moments. But overall, Berkeley treads a sure path between the banality of ordinary life and the grandiosity of the characters’ aspirations. The enigmatic ending is especially affecting and effective.

© Adrian Martin September 1991

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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