Film: Oranges and Sunshine & Mad Bastards

Two new Australian films are excellent candidates to observe through the lens of belonging. Both are quiet, thoughtful films, leaving you lots of thinking time.

Oranges and Sunshine is about the gradual revelations through the 1980s of hundreds of unaccompanied child migrants who were sent – illegally – to Australia from Britain, particularly during the 1940s to 1960s, although it was a practice apparently begun much earlier. Children were often told, incorrectly, that their parents were dead, and the parents that the children had been adopted into a better life. Sadly, the truth was that many suffered institutional abuse, quite apart from the loss of family and identity.

The film looks at the story through the eyes of British social worker Margaret Humphreys, who became a passionate advocate for the adults who told her their stories. David Wenham and Hugo Weaving give masterly performances as two of those grown up children, but it is seeing the effect on Humphreys, who takes on the trauma and who has to balance her good work for them with loyalty to her own family, that makes us think about what was lost and what can be found again. Can you ever belong again after you have been made to feel that you are nothing?

There is an Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) study guide for Oranges and Sunshine, free to download for the first 18 months, then inexpensive from their online shop. And it is even available as an iPad app. ATOM Film Study Guides

Mad Bastards Trailer from Pollen Digital on Vimeo.

Mad Bastards doesn’t sound like what you would call a quiet film, and there is certainly yelling and crying and violence. Yet much of the film observes the pain in the faces of the characters as they move through their lives trying to make some sense of it all. Primarily we are looking at a man seeking out his son after thirteen years of neglect. TJ is an Aboriginal man but must journey into country not his own. Meanwhile his son has been sent to a camp run by elders to avoid juvenile detention. The boy’s grandfather warns TJ off before knowing who he is – being both a policeman and a good man he knows the type. His painful journey is weighing up the bad influence of a “mad bastard” against the importance of the boy having a relationship with his father.

The mother is also an important character in this story as is the shadowy other child – an older daughter – who looks on from the sidelines in fear. We don’t hear any more of her story here.

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