What the characters say in Beneath Clouds isn’t nearly as important as whether they choose to speak and why.Two indigenous teenagers leave outback Moree for different reasons. The light-skinned Lena (Danielle Hall) seeks her Irish father in Sydney and sees no hope or purpose in her present environment. Vaughan (Damian Pitt) has just escaped from a detention centre.
During their road trip to Sydney, Lena and Vaughan are subtly transformed by their exposure to each other. Mostly, it’s their contrasting perceptions of indigenous and white society that are challenged.
In their first film roles, Pitt and Hall contribute remarkably assured, naturalistic performances. The meditative direction of Ivan Sen, in combination with Allan Collins’ striking outdoors photography, emphasises the beauty of the landscape. Sen counterpoints the natural grandeur of terrain and sky with the occasional human ugliness encountered on the journey, much as Terrence Malick and cinematographer John Toll highlighted war’s horrors in The Thin Red Line.Beneath Clouds marks a transition from shorts to feature-length film for writer-director-composer Ivan Sen. On the strength of his debut, calling Sen a filmmaker to watch seems the understatement of the year.