SYDNEY – The raw beauty of a remote old-growth forest is both the backdrop and a catalyst for redemption in Melbourne director Kasimir Burgess’ mesmeric debut feature film Fell. Burgess has runs on the board exploring beautiful but troubling realms of heightened reality in shorts such as The Man Who Could Not Dream and Lily, winner of the Crystal Bear at the 2011 Berlinale. Branching out into feature-length drama, he takes an emotionally devastating event – the death of a little girl in a hit-and-run accident – and weaves an enigmatic tale of sorrow and vengeance around the two very different men affected by the tragedy.
Despite a tendency to lean too heavily on a repertoire of striking images – a carry-over from his music video background, no doubt – Burgess demonstrates a distinctive style and a sure hand. The Felix Media production, which just had its world premiere in official competition at the Sydney Film Festival, should be warmly received on the festival and art house circuit. In an innovative distribution first, the Sydney Film Festival and the Adelaide Film Festival partnered for a video-on-demand launch of the film over the same weekend as the premiere, reaching out to a “virtual” film festival community.
Matt Nable, a professional footballer turned actor (Riddick, The Turning) plumbs new emotional depths for his role as Thomas Ryan. Early scenes demonstrate the close and loving relationship he enjoys with his young daughter, Lara (Isabella Garwoli), as the two camp out under the stars in the dense and misty Victorian Alps. When Lara is hit and killed after wandering into the path of a logging truck driven by Luke Simpson (Snowtown’s breakout star Daniel Henshall), Thomas is plunged into a numbing grief. Life as he knew it is over, and a small but effective scene in which his wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) tries and fails to connect sets the scene for the grieving man’s flight from reality and into the woods.
The amiable but feckless Luke serves five years in prison for the hit-and run, emerging to take on responsibility for the daughter who was born while he was inside and to beg for his tree-felling job back. Meanwhile, Thomas has ditched his corporate life and moved to the timber town, where he changes his name to Chris and joins the logging crew. As the two men work side-by-side, the reserved and silent Thomas/Chris weighs up the life of the man who killed his daughter.
With lush cinematography from Marden Dean and the languid pace of an unfurling dream, Fell sometimes verges on Terrence Malick-style impressionism. But it is much more than a reverie. A strong narrative structure, courtesy of a beautifully spare, dialogue-light screenplay by Natasha Pincus (director of the music video for Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know), keeps a propulsive tension at its core.
Venue: Sydney Film Festival
Production company: Felix Media
Cast: Daniel Henshall, Matt Nable, Jacqueline McKenzie
Director: Kasimir Burgess
Screenwriter: Natasha Pincus, based on a story by Burgess and Pincus
Producers: John Maynard, Mary Minas
Executive producer: Bridget Ikin
Director of photography: Marden Dean
Music: Luke Altmann
Production designer: Zohie Castellano
Costume designers: Stacey O’Connor and Zohie Castellano
Editor: Simon Price
Sales: Transmission Films
No rating, 100 minutes