WEST OF SUNSHINE
Director: Jason Raftopoulos
Screenwriter: Jason Raftopoulos
Runtime: 78 mins.
Australian release date: 23 August 2018
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, 21 August 2018.
When it screened in the ‘Horizons’ section of last year’s Venice Film Festival, Jason Raftopoulos’s debut feature West Of Sunshine was aptly described in Screen International as, “A slice of neo-realism, Australian style.” This laconic piece of film-making is an acute observation of the ‘living on the edge’ existence of a Melbourne man, Jim (Damien Hill, writer of the great 2015 film Pawno, who has a gambling habit that’s had a heavy impact on his life. It’s cost him his job and his marriage and now he’s in danger of losing his relationship with his young son too.
Jim’s day gets off to a rocky start because not only is he late for work but he’d forgotten that he’d agreed to look after his son Alex (Ty Perham) for the day - it’s school holidays and his estranged partner (Faye Smythe) has to work. It turns out that Jim is a courier and his prized possession is his vintage muscle car, a Ford Fairlane, a vehicle that is an integral part to the plot and is in almost every scene. Alex is a monosyllabic kid who’s not entirely happy to be spending the day driving around with his dad but who is placated somewhat by being allowed to play games on the old man’s iPhone. To make matters worse, Jim is forced to use his beloved car for his deliveries as the company he works for refuses to let him use one of their vans because their insurance doesn’t cover passengers. During the day Jim arranges to meet a colleague, Steve (Arthur Angel), who’s a good mate but their friendship is under pressure due to Jim’s gambling, at the local pub where there’s a betting agency. Jim’s got a hunch that will solve his debt problem if the horse comes in. He owes a lot of money to Banos (Tony Nikolakopoulos), a loan shark and his old boss, and under serious threat if he can’t pay up by the end of the day. But a gambling addict with money in his hand is an invitation to disaster and the rest of the film is a series of events that sees Jim increasingly desperate to raise some cash. As a result, Alex is witness to his dad’s unconventional ways and dubious friends and, at one time, is placed in a situation that may cost him his life.
Thom Neil’s cinematography is tightly framed and in your face - in a positive way - particularly the scenes in the car. His use of close-ups on the father and son are confronting as they make you become part of their realm. Paul Rowe’s back-and-forth editing draws you in to their enclosed, claustrophibic world, too. At times the camera lingers on inanimate objects, which adds to the feeling of being trapped with the characters. This sensation of being caught up in unstoppable forces is also aided by the intense, ethereal soundtrack of award-winning composer Lisa Gerrard and James Orr. West Of Sunshine is a quiet and powerful depiction of a day in the life of a loser desperate to make amends. It resonates because of its quiet, at times almost pedestrian approach to adversity. Thus, it comes across as an authentic depiction of the despair generated when life is spiralling out of control and by the inevitability of events when one is in the grip of a gambling addiction. If this sounds altogether too bleak, don’t worry, West Of Sunshine is also a tale of redemption - a story of how the choices we make can save us from our demons, if we make the right ones.