Of An Age Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Goran Stolevski
Stars: Elias Anton, Thom Green, Hattie Hook.
The opening night film of the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2022 was Of An Age, a queer themed drama and coming of age tale that seems to draw inspiration from the likes of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset and the classic Brief Encounter.
The film is set in 1999 and centres around Nikola (Elias Anton, from the miniseries Barracuda, etc), a 17-year-old of Serbian descent. He has recently graduated from high school. He is supposed to be performing at a dance competition, but his partner Ebony (Hattie Hook, in her film debut) seems to have gone missing. Ebony wakes up disheveled and clearly distressed on a beach somewhere after a heavy night. She needs to be at the final of a ballroom dancing championship where she is partnering Nikola. In a panic she phones him asking for help. Nikola doesn’t have a car, and he turns to her older brother Adam (Thom Green, from Downriver, etc) for help as he is old enough to drive.
The pair share a road journey to Altona to pick up Ebony. As they drive across town, the pair exchange chatter about music and literature, and even exchange nervous stolen glances, and it is clear that there is some connection between the two. Nikola is wrestling with his own sexuality, and it is only when Adam admits that he is gay that Nikola seems able to relax and enjoy his company. This changes the dynamic between the pair and an unexpected romance develops.
But their brief encounter is overshadowed by the news that Adam is leaving the next day to study overseas in Argentina for several years to earn his PhD. Eleven years later the pair reconnect at Ebony’s wedding, but a lot has changed in that time. There is more of a reserve and unspoken tension between them this time around.
The sophomore film from writer/director Goran Stolevski (the beguiling supernatural horror film You Won’t Be Alone), Of An Age is a coming of age tale, but it also seems deeply personal as the character of Nikola shares some common background with the filmmaker. The film explores themes of the immigrant experience, identity, sexuality, alienation, painful first love, and being gay in an ethnic community, but the material seems grounded in reality. The dialogue between Nikola and Adam is natural. Stolevski directs the material with empathy and compassion and reveals a deep insight into the main characters.
The performances of the three leads are all uniformly good. Anton brings a brooding quality and a naivety to his role as the closeted Nikola, while Green has an assured and solid presence. Hook is good and elicits plenty of laughs as the narcissistic and self-centred Ebony.
The film was shot over a period of 18 days by cinematographer Matthew Chuang (Blue Bayou, etc) and gives us some stark vistas of Melbourne, making the city a fourth character in the drama. But he gives us some less picturesque imagery of the city, far removed from the usual visions familiar to tourists. Chuang also works in closeup, the intimate handheld camerawork focusing in on the characters, and this gives us insight into their emotions and thoughts. The boxy Academy ratio also lends the material a claustrophobic quality.
The drama is accompanied by a soundtrack of traditional Serbian and Brazilian flavoured music which further adds to the atmosphere.
Of An Age stamps Stolevski as an exciting and talented filmmaker to watch.