SIFF 34: Dispatch Four, Newcastle

It’s at the point in the festival, with two more weeks still to go, that most of the movies seem a blur. Although I stopped going to screenings on a daily basis ages ago (centuries since the day?), I no longer have the patience I started out with at the end of April, when the advance reels first unfurled. I can’t take another boring and undistinguished movie from Europe, à la Claude Miller’s A Secret or Alina Marazzi’s deplorably indulgent We Want Roses, Too. I’ve begun to long for films, even one film, made with style and panache. To long for a new kind of storytelling, something to jolt my deadened senses into feeling fresh and alive once more.

On Saturday, May 31, at the Egyptian Theatre, I finally saw a movie that did precisely that. Like most unexpectedly great cinematic awakenings, it arrived out of the blue, in this case the blue of New South Wales, Australia. It’s called Newcastle, written and directed by one Dan Castle, and features a cast of comparatively unknown young actors/surfers.

I walked into the movie blind, not knowing the story and having to piece together the angst-ridden relationships on screen. Newcastle, from that perspective, at first appears to take place in a boarding house where grudge-bearing surfer boys nearly come to blows over the most mundane issues. Eventually, I understood that they were half-brothers or stepbrothers of some configuration. This disorienting ambiguity works in the movie’s favor—it’s as if we’re watching rival gangs, color-coded by the director. There are four bleached blond “dudes,” (whom I could barely tell apart, early on) and then there’s the older (mid to late-twenties) Victor Hoff, a tattooed pugilist with a dark buzzcut. Victor (Reshad Strik) and his two friends Jake and Billy (Woody Naismith and Jaymes Triglone) match up to one another physically: their bodies are larger, their muscles are tighter, their personae more aggressive. When these three enter the surf, they resemble sharks in the water. During the post-screening Q&A, Castle spoke of creating a “dolphin-esque energy” among the younger, smaller blonds, and it’s part of his achievement that the dynamics between the brothers and their buddies mirror the territorial strife of the big fish.

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