This is an ugly movie. Some sub-genus of humanity may put that squarely on the main cast for this, but this goes beyond what some still consider to be visually grotesque. Instead, this is ugly in a very cerebral sense, meant to confront the audience with ideas that they’d likely prefer to keep unspoken or unthought. It’s the kind of experience where it is far from obvious what is going on, but it still manages to leave an indelible impression on the mind’s eye.
A story about a woman and her interactions with her clown father, played by Sarah Houbolt and Robin Royce Queree, writer/director Luke Sullivan shows a lot of French influence in his framing. The contrasting use of colour and monochrome that has followed him from his last feature You’re Not Thinking Straight, dialogue that feels designed to undermine the very concept of language, even down to the vaguely post-apocalyptic backdrop a la Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear; it all serves as a European sheen over what amounts to a lot of bizarre, hateful and intense imagery. To add to the disorientation, there’s the fractured electronics bleeping away in the background score, very jittery editing from Shaun Smith, and Jamie Appleby’s approach to sound editing that utilises hard clanging of glass to punctuate the cuts; and you have a rather challenging film to get through.
Of course, as is the case with most cinematic challenges, the proof is in the success of braving said challenge; what does this all amount to? Well, going purely by the parameters of the work itself, we get bits and pieces that only just jut out of the dreamlike haze of the story.
Acts of aggression, misery, desolation, all set against prominently flooded scenery, that shows Houbolt at the recurring mercy of The Clown. It echoes Dean Francis’ Drown in its almost-psychedelic depiction of masculinity, with all the toxicity unfortunately intact. And yet, psychedelia and dreamscapes don’t seem to be at the forefront of the filmmaker’s mind, as the film starts and regularly intercuts with interview footage of Houbolt and Queree being asked a series of questions. Some of these questions step into the realm of navel-gazing (“Do you believe blood is thicker than water?”), while others add more uncomfortable layers to this wedding cake of grime (“Do you believe in love?”).
Reflections In The Dust lacks the immediate and quite visceral impact of Luke Sullivan’s previous work, but it still shows him taking a tremendous risk in how he bends the rules of storytelling to fit his vision. In a year where it seems like Aussie cinema as a whole is in a serious rut (The Flip Side, Chasing Comets, Breath), this wholly confounding work shows that there are still some who are willing to push what the medium and its audience are capable of. It may be a little too abstract to really get across the ideas it wishes to present, but that same presentation deserves respect.
Now available on OzFlix, we take a look back at the difficult path taken to the screen by the uncompromising Australian drama, The Nothing Men, starring Colin Friels, David Field and Martin Dingle-Wall.