BLAZE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Del Kathryn Barton

Stars: Simon Baker, Julia Savage, Yael Stone, Josh Lawson Bernie Van Tiel.

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This confronting coming of age drama deals with themes of the emotional and physical effects of trauma, sexual violence and violence against women and the lack of justice, and is not an easy film to sit through. 

Blaze (Julia Savage, from tv series Mr Inbetween, etc) is a 12-year-old schoolgirl who witnesses the brutal rape and murder of Hannah (Yael Stone, from tv series Orange Is The New Black) in a laneway. As a result, she retreats into her own imaginary world as she tries to make sense of what she has seen. Her childhood friend, the imaginary sparkling dragon Zephyr, provides comfort and her vivid imagination helps her cope. Her widowed father (Simon Baker, from tv series The Mentalist, etc) struggles to help her as she descends deeper into depression. When briefly committed to a psychiatric care facility, Blaze meets a counsellor named Blossom (Bernie Van Tiel), who helps her work through some complicated and conflicting emotions. 

It’s easy to see that first time filmmaker Del Kathryn Barton comes from a background in visual arts. The two-time winner of the Archibald Prize fills out the drama with lots of dazzling visual flourishes and surreal stylistic touches that include stop motion animation, puppetry, elaborate and colourful costumes, symbolism, music video style sequences and magic realism. It seems a bit overwhelming and overly long. The soundtrack includes Nick Cave and The Flaming Lips and resonates strongly with the film’s themes and Blaze’s psychological trauma. 

Blaze has been in part loosely inspired by an incident from Barton’s own life and seems informed by personal experience. Barton has co-written the script with Huna Amweero (her feature debut following work on several short films) and is a tough watch. The rape scene is depicted in disturbing and unflinching fashion. However, the courtroom scenes are badly handled and lack any sort of credibility, and this is symptomatic of Barton’s sometimes heavy-handed approach to the material.   

In her first feature film, Savage’s performance is superb and reflects a maturity beyond her years as she conveys a range of emotions that capture her character’s inner turmoil. Baker is also strong and sympathetic as her concerned father who seems unable to help her through her psychological trauma.  

Director Barton has done a good job of digging into the mindset of the troubled Blaze. Cinematographer Jeremy Rouse works in close up much of the time, which conveys Blaze’s turmoil and troubled thoughts as she tries to make sense of what she has witnessed. 

Although it tackles some important themes, Blaze is an uncomfortable film and may not appeal to everyone. 

★★★

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