West of SunshineVenice Film Festival 2017
Catharsis and a man’s attachment to his automobile are two overarching themes that are introduced in the opening scene of West of Sunshine. The blue colour palate in the first sequence and the use of running water foreshadow Jimmy’s (Damian Hill) dreary and unlucky day, which is about to unfold. His troubles stem from his gambling and his need to pay back a loan shark on the same day he needs to deliver packages for work and care for his estranged son Alex (Tyler Perham). Jim’s prized possession, his pristine vintage car, has been his primary focus rather than his family.
In his debut feature, Australian writer-director Jason Raftopoulos allows a full four minutes to pass before any speech enters the story. If only the entire narrative could be told through the images and soundtrack rather than the poorly constructed dialogue. Hill’s delivery is not that believable and takes away from the interesting camera angles and great cinematography provided by director of photography Thom Neal. The images and music are given a front seat to conversation but that isn’t enough to make up for some strange lines.
Jim’s precious car moves the plot along not only physically but also emotionally. It’s unfortunate that the big climactic scene is a bit of a letdown, with unrealistic direction and odd editing. A script doctor should have cleaned up the dialogue and made the interaction between Jim and bad guy Banos (Tony Nikolakopoulos) more tense, more something, just more.
Some of the most memorable moments are when Jim and his son are travelling around in his beautiful car, delivering a variety of packages around Melbourne’s West. The camera framing and sun-drenched lighting are spot on and the interactions with an array of people make for interesting storytelling. The shots in and around Jim’s car are well-paced and reflect its importance in his world; one camera placement shooting the car’s wheels is a fun choice.
As this is an indie film, there seems to be some sort of gritty or lesser quality to the shots. The images, while very moving and convincing, occasionally look cheap, which is probably a purposeful choice. It will be fascinating to see where Raftopoulos’s filmmaking career goes from here after his impressive premiere in the Orizzonti section at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. At least, visually speaking, his feature debut is a success and it would be nice to see him direct something penned by a more seasoned screenwriter.
West of Sunshine does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for West of Sunshine here: