Last weekend I went to see one of the independent Australian films at the 2010 Sydney Film Festival. This Western Australian film only had two showings at the festival, but I look forward to its wider release, because it’s a little gem that I would definitely see again.
Yu-Hsiu Camille Chen | Australia | 87 mins
Little Sparrows is the story of a family of women. Susan (Nicola Bartlett) has three daughters – Nina (Nina Deasley), Anna (Melanie Munt) and Christine (Arielle Gray). There is a husband and father, James (James Hagan), but he is a remote and somewhat puzzled figure, who has obviously not been an easy man to live with.
There is so much going on in the emotional lives of these woman as the film loops around the personal narratives of each of them, back and forth in the before and after of a Christmas celebration. Susan is dying of cancer, and everyone has to reconcile themselves with that fact while trying to deal with all the other challenges of a modern life. All three daughters are in differently precarious situations with their love lives and senses of self, while Susan has to come to peace with the lack of emotional satisfaction in her long marriage and wondering whether she has given her daughters the strength to seek better for themselves.
Yet this film is so much more than just women angsting over love and romance under the shadow of death. There are moments of joy and absurd delight, there are moments of simple silliness with shared family jokes, there are those terrible moments of discomfort along generational lines at Christmas dinner that are later recounted with gales of laughter if people are lucky.
What I especially liked on the directorial side was how there is a beautiful slow intensity about each of Susan’s interactions, the sensation that she is experiencing each moment with a previously unknown depth and clarity. This is deliberately contrasted with more emphasis on the hand-held camera work when we are with each daughter away from her; their lives are so much faster and appear not fully considered or examined, while Susan is turning all her memories over and holding them up to the spotlight.
When Susan is with her husband, determinedly kind as he tries to cope with anticipating her upcoming death, we can see that James knows that he has fallen short for her somehow, he wishes for more from himself on some levels, but at the core he doesn’t fully understand what it is that is missing between them.
87 minutes flew by even though the film’s pace is measuredly deliberate, and at the end I wanted it to keep showing me more of these characters’ lives. If you get the chance to see it, jump on it.