If it wasn't for this basic rundown I would have had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on in this new Australian film, which serves as a provocative and confusing allegory for violence against women. And how do I know this? Because the film's official website states: “REFLECTIONS IN THE DUST is a powerful allegory for the epidemic of violence against women in Australia and is dedicated to the countless women who continue to lose their lives on a weekly basis at the hands of a male.”
Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy provocative abstract cinema, and I welcome the challenge of confusion. But when it comes to this particular exercise in subversion I throw my hands in the air and give up. I shouldn't have to consult the production's website to find answers, and were it not for their explanation the film would have simply been a document of a deranged clown and his mentally handicapped daughter wading through swamplands. There is no context, nor is there depth. It is simply an ongoing, often abusive, interaction between two troubled souls.
The website also states: “The Australian government deemed the film was too extreme for audiences and strongly suggested it not be completed during production, however director Luke Sullivan pushed on with the film, asserting that such an extreme story needs to be told in an era where ‘we are losing grandmothers, mothers, sisters and friends to senseless acts of violence perpetrated by men”.
Hang on, WHAT? This needs further explanation, of which I am unable to find any. The government's classification board granted it an MA15+ rating, with mostly moderate themes. How or why the government would possibly intervene over such a small and ambiguous micro-budgeted project is beyond me and it feels an awful lot like a publicity ploy. Of course I will retract that statement should I find compelling evidence to support their claim... doubt I will.
As implied, the film is set mostly in a boggish swampland where the father and daughter appear to reside. They share various tones of interactions, from affectionate and nurturing, to manipulative and abusive. It is, aesthetically, a grim and upsetting story, and it is performed remarkably by its two leads; Robin Royce Queree (Burns Point) and Sarah Houbolt (Cirque du Solei). Their performances are obviously courageous and from the moment they hit the screen they project sincerity and raw emotion, and yet there is no cohesive theme to bind their rapport. And as the aimless narrative unfolds we are given front row seat to what is essentially an actor's workshop. Were it not presented in black & white, the film's textural impact would be nil. Thank goodness they've at least given us something interesting to look at. The film also presents a fragmented interview component interwoven throughout, with the actors answering personal questions about their own lives.
With the website's mission statement in mind, and the prominence of women's rights in the foreground of global issues, wouldn't it be all the more powerful to address these themes head on, rather than being ambiguous, pretentious and confusing? A film like this should be an open door to further discussion on the issue, rather than a side-gate leading to a brick wall. You can argue that I am ironically talking about violence against women by writing this review, but I can assure you I am not. I am expressing confusion, frustration and anger towards a very disappointing film. If you want a genuine focal point on the issue then watch the new Lorena Bobbitt documentary on Amazon Prime, or perhaps go all the way back to the 90s and watch films like Once Were Warriors and Nil My Mouth instead.
And on a final note, director Luke Sullivan has spoken about walk-outs at the film's Karlovy Very International Film Festival screening, citing the heavy subject matter as the reason. Or could it be that they reacted exactly like I did?