Looking for Grace, a movie of quiet discoveries

E. Nina Rothe, The Huffington Post, “(This film) takes the audience on a series of journeys that still make the little hairs on my arms stand on end. Yes, I am still thinking about the film, nearly a week after watching it.”

Looking for Grace is a 2015 Australian drama film directed by Sue Brooks. It stars Odessa Young as 16 year old Grace. Radha Mitchell and Richard Roxburgh (of Rake fame) play the parents, Denise and Dan, who go looking for her. Veteran Terry Norris steals scenes as the elderly private detective.

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Grace disappears into the wide open country of Western Australia. Can her parents find her?

Grace disappears from her home in the suburbs of Perth. So does a stash of her father’s money. Has something terrible happened, a break and enter gone wrong or even a kidnapping? As she is classed only as ‘missing’ by the police they give no help. Her distraught parents hire an aged private detective, who turns out to not be as entirely hopeless as he looks. Together they drive hundreds of kilometres into the Wheat Belt to find her.

David Stratton: “Looking for Grace – the title is double-edged – is an impeccably packaged film … the music score by Elizabeth Drake perfectly complements the narrative. The characters depicted are flawed in all sorts of ways, but Brooks’s sympathy for all of them shines through and the result is an offbeat road movie filled with surprises and revelations.”

We return to some scenes from the viewpoint of different characters, so that the impact each time differs. (There is a Japanese movie of the 1950’s famous for first doing this, but I cannot remember it’s name). The deliberately fractured narrative is a risk: it might have only confused the viewer. But in fact it draws us in and presents us with an intriguing jigsaw of private lives, and a growing understanding of this family in crisis.

Phillipa Hawker Sydney Morning Herald said ” This a film of surprising twists and revelations, but it’s also a movie that withholds things. It is a work made up of a series of quiet discoveries”.

Looking for Grace has no heroes, just ordinary people and multiple journeys, all the characters in search of something elusive in their lives – they hardly know what. The screenplay is wry, almost Pinteresque, about human behaviour. We shift from the teen lust of the early scenes to middle-aged marital angst to unexpected comedic moments to secrets clumsily revealed over the plastic tablecloth of a drab cafe. The keen observation of the awkward ways that anxious people rub up against each other will not appeal to everyone. I loved it.

Paul Byrnes, Sydney Morning Herald: “So many comedies trade in juvenile and trivial ideas; this one offers a deep observation of human nature, with a sense of the ridiculous that’s much more satisfying. Brooks knows that life is weirder than movies make out, but not her movies.” 

I live in Western Australia where the story was filmed, and I particularly liked Sue Brooks treatment of our vast country and the long hypnotic journeys that it takes to get to anywhere at all, and even that might only be a shabby hamlet* . Although a soft city dweller I never tire of our Big Sky country.  Perhaps those who love the plains and prairies of Canada, Agrentina and central USA will understand. Our best film makers turn our ‘boring’ expanses into a dreamlike quality, a suggestion of timelessness, of the vastness of the universe.  Director Sue Brooks and cinematographer Katie Milwright have done that here.

I am not a fan of crash-bang overblown movies. They slam noise and images into the viewer; they treat you as a passive thing and don’t let you participate. But I realise it is easier – and more lucrative – to make that sort of entertainment than to create quiet movies of character and humanity. These require not just fine acting but a great script which leaves enough spaces to draw in the viewer. It’s far harder to get these made. When they are, and I have the good fortune to see them, I rejoice. I hope you will too.

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Looking for Grace was the first film directed by an Australian female director to screen at the Venice International Film Festival in 15 years. It also screened at the 72nd Venice and 2015 Toronto International Film Festivals.

*Western Australia (WA) sprawls over one third of the Australian continent. Is Texas big? WA is four times the size of Texas.

You are at Baffled Bear Books, the blog of Mark, guardian,chocolate-fetcher and hapless typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Mawson is writer bear of It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In.

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