I Am You
On a plane from Melbourne to Doha in 2012, suspended above countries and between time zones, I discovered an unusual Australian film that I had previously never heard of: I Am You.
It is a film that, by rights, many cinephiles should know about. It features three of the biggest stars of the Australia/New Zealand axis (Miranda Otto, Guy Pearce and Sam Neill). It is based on a sensational and utterly captivating true-life criminal case (the 1999 murder of teenage Rachel Barber by a psychotic admirer). It’s directed by a woman, Simone North (“mentored by Sidney Lumet”, as the Wikipedia entry for this movie proudly tells us). And it captures well the sights and sounds of a part of suburban Melbourne.
But I Am You slipped through the cracks of Australian distribution and exhibition, due to all manner of post-completion and legal difficulties. But also, I suspect, because it pushes its sensation-factor to bizarre, quite perverse extremes. It makes even its supposedly ordinary, law-abiding characters behave like melodramatic exemplars of some Great Australian Sickness.
Too trashy for the mainstream to handle, in other words – but, in that very trashiness, revealing of thoughts and emotions that are weirdly compelling.
I Am You is just one of the many contemporary Australian movies that are rarely discussed in print. For the most part, Australian cinema holds tight to middlebrow turf (humanist family dramas, tasteful literary adaptations). And most critical writing on this cinema dutifully follows suit, content to annotate (whether positively or negatively) what has already been carefully filtered out for public attention.
Even when there are exceptions – people into “genre movies”, or documentary, or experimental work – they tend to stay within their own ghettos. There’s not much true networking across cultural borders, and even fewer rescue missions to redeem unfairly lost or overlooked films. As a result, I Am You simply never made it to the audience that could have valued it.
However, once in a while – on a plane, or on late-night television – we stumble upon these strange, sometimes never officially released, local movies. I dream of one day writing a book titled Australian Cinema at 4am – indicating an oblique, critical view of our national filmmaking in terms of its margins as much as its centre, its underground as much as its above-ground.
These often hitherto and unsung genre-pitched films, independent/experimental/political features and oddball, privately funded ventures can give us a different, renewed picture of our cinematic and cultural landscape.
Not always flattering, hardly ever pretty, but frequently fascinating – someone, at least, should endeavour to draw into daylight this “Australian cinema at 4am” and draw some conclusions.
© Adrian Martin May 2012