Silver City (1984) is an ambitious first feature that tackles a serious, neglected Australian subject.It explores the experience of post-World War II European migrants through the eyes of a young Polish woman (the charming Gosia Dobrowolska in her film debut). After embarking from her ship at Sydney harbour, Nina is relocated to a camp for “New Australians”: a “silver city” of corrugated steel sheds in country New South Wales. Over the next few years, we track her efforts at establishing herself in an alien environment.
First-time director Sophia Turkiewicz effectively sketches the Australian political context of the late 1940s and makes clear that many migrants received only a grudging welcome, despite the official rhetoric. Unfortunately, a routine love story soon comes to the fore and relegates the film’s social context to the background. Nina falls for a fellow migrant and “city” resident, the unhappily married Julian (Ivor Kants). Silver City takes place in flashback, so it’s wearying having to watch the affair continually stop and start when we know it all ends in tears.
Turkiewicz based the screenplay in part on her own family’s travails as Polish immigrants. Acclaimed novelist Thomas Kenneally also worked on the script and receives a co-writer credit. For the most part, Turkiewicz directs with sensitivity. An exception is the treatment of the subsidiary Australian characters who are frequently shrill and one-dimensional. They render Nina’s encounters with local racism inevitable and heavy-handed. These scenes could have been more affecting if they were less predictable.
Archetypal Aussie larrikin Steve Bisley stretches himself by playing an ambitious new arrival, complete with creditable Polish accent. Anna Jemison manages to make Julian’s cheated-upon wife more than a stock figure. It’s a pity that Kants does not invest Julian with sufficient charisma to cover his half of the romance. Dobrowolska is always sympathetic in a difficult role. Silver City proved a successful launching pad for her local film career.It may only have been the poor quality DVD transfer, but John Seale’s cinematography was so dark it was sometimes hard to discern exactly what was going on.