Greenacres, Adelaide, summer 1971. Leanne Ferris (Pia Miranda) wants to be a photographer, but is battling through teacherís college to satisfy her conservative parents. Older sister Bronwyn (Sacha Horler) desperately misses her teaching job. Sheís newly married to a painfully earnest husband (Tamblyn Lord), who expects Bronwyn to look after their pre-fabricated home in the middle of nowhere. Leanneís neighbour (Tim Draxl) works at the local TV station and, like Leanne, is fed up with small-town life and desperate for a chance to get away. The arrival from America of a young hippy beat poet, Lou (Brett Stiller), proves the catalyst for shaking up their lives.Travelling Light is writer-director Kathryn Millardís follow-up to her short feature Parklands (Cate Blanchettís first film lead). What distinguishes it from the usual tale of coming-of-age in dull, repressive suburbia is its perceptive insight into depression. Itís run rampant and unchecked through three generations of Leanneís family, and it hangs like a heavy cloud over the scenes in the Ferris household.
There are a lot of moments in Travelling Light that ring refreshingly true. The secretive rapport between two sisters, united against their obsessively cautious parents (Heather Mitchell and Marshall Napier). Simon Burkeís impression of an Australian light entertainment television presenter and variety performer is uncannily accurate (the video montage to his song is worth the price of admission alone). Leanneís disastrous first practical experience as a teacher is as recognisable and funny as Bronwynís slow suffocation in her claustrophobic marital home is sad.
Millard uses a lot of flat, open locations, stillness and bright light to suggest the incessant heat and boredom. The arrival of Lou is obviously supposed to incite tension amongst the community. Unfortunately, Brett Stiller doesnít seem charismatic enough to justify his following. The explanation for why such a character would even visit Adelaide is too late in coming, so credulity is painfully stretched. A more provocative, wildfire presence would have given the film the jolt it needed to shake off the torpor of the slackened scenes and provide more contrast with the quieter moments.The casting is otherwise strong. Ultimately, Travelling Light is commendable for its sensitive handling of a mental illness theme, and optimistic and hopeful treatment of what could otherwise have been a depressing story.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.