Silent Partner

(Alkinos Tsilimidos, Australia, 2001)


One of the ways of making low-budget features in Australia is to scrape together the resources for the shoot, and only later seek government aid in post-production. This has been the path of Melbourne-based Alkinos Tsilimidos.

His previous film, Everynight ... Everynight (1995), was a gritty, grim prison drama adapted from a play by Ray Mooney. Although not a particularly satisfying film on any level, at least it seized on a style (rigid minimalism in black and white) and a subject (the horrors of Pentridge Prison's notorious H Division in the early 1970s) to suit its ultra-low budget.

With Silent Partner, Tsilimidos has again shot quickly and cheaply, completing the project with the collaboration of various government and TV organisations. The central actor in both his films is David Field (who here doubles as Associate Producer). And again, the source material is a local play, this time by Daniel Keene.

Silent Partner is a more relaxed and assured film than Everynight... Everynight. It is a portrait of two pretty hopeless, working class guys, John (Field) and Bill (Syd Brisbane), who entertain the crazy idea that they will become wealthy and successful by raising and racing a greyhound. The piece is reminiscent in many of its moods and interactions of John Ruane's Queensland (1976).

The film is a catalogue of miseries, not without a dry, laconic sense of humour. Keene's material – which sometimes comes across as a sub-Sam Shepard vision of Australian suburbia – offers a flip side to the sort of romanticisation of the working man found in the ramblings of Barry Dickins.

John and Bill are pathetic losers without a clue – afraid of guys more powerful than them, unable to deal meaningfully with women, rather lousy at taking responsibility even over their beloved greyhound. Tsilimidos works hard to create affection for them, even at their worst.

The best moments of Silent Partner are its freest – outdoor glimpses, a pixillated racetrack sequence, a long section devoted to rendering the pair's drunken ravings. The music by Paul Kelly and Gerry Hale doesn't quite make the grade as a film score in my book, but at least the various songs and moody, strummed riffs work better here than in Lantana (2001).

Strangely, Tsilimidos transfers almost every convention of stage artifice to screen – off-stage characters talked about but never seen, major dramatic events skipped over – without any compelling or overriding reason for doing so. Such hyper-faithful theatrical adaptation works for avant-garde figures like Werner Schroeter or Manoel De Oliveira, but here it just comes across as strange and frustrating.

Silent Partner marks an advance in Tsilimidos' feature career, particularly in its direction of actors, but it also inevitably feels like treading water. As much as one can admire his maverick style of production, one is still left longing for more substantial results.

© Adrian Martin August 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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