Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Head First.

In a year otherwise dominated by The Interview and The Boys, Ana Kokkinos' debut feature (and easily her best - come on, The Book Of Revelation? Really?) Head On made a fairly significant splash for its brazen portrayal of sexuality in an otherwise somewhat conservative Australian film industry. Where Priscilla, some years before, had tackled queer sensibility in an underhanded, overly camp and somewhat stereotypical and over the top fashion, Head On delved right into the grotty, seedy, blow-job-in-a-back-alley world that many people would prefer to believe doesn't really exist. And it did it well.

Alex Dimitriades, a few years after making a name for himself in television's Heartbreak High, plays young Ari, a young man of Greek descent living in Melbourne. A somewhat traditional and conservative family seems to be holding back his own expression of himself - not to mention his own masculine bravado and the fear of his family and peers at large, particularly within his community. He has strong desires for men, but he is also turned off by the actions of his friend Johnny (Paul Capsis in a spellbinding screen debut), transgender and in your face. What Johnny goes through is tough for Ari to confront, and he also doesn't want to be thought of as a 'faggot', with all of the late-nineties connotations that has for a young man such as himself. Then he struggles with his responsibilities to his family, especially his younger sister, and he is constantly tempted by the party world, whether gay or straight, and the drugs and escape they provide.

Head On is all about his journey, unfulfilling and open-ended. His petulance and immaturity adds to the drama - he isn't old enough to work himself out, and instead is left suffering through the pressures placed on him by society both small and large. To compensate he engages in random and dangerous sexual liaisons, such as in various back alleys, and is in turn both the abused and the abuser. This very direct and explicit representation of queer existence made quite an impact on the Australian public: especially notorious is the graphic masturbation scene by Ari to kick off the film.

Kokkinos showed incredible promise with this forthright, no-holds-barred examination of life in the gutter, helped by the solid performance of Dimitriades and the stunning work of Capsis, known more as a cabaret singer back in Oz. The fabulous Jill Bilcock took up the job of cutting the film, working within the gritty shots and hostile colour scheme to give incredible consistency throughout. Andrew Bovell, to bring us Lantana a couple of years later, co-wrote the terrific script with Kokkinos and Mira Robertson from Christos Tsiolkas' novel Loaded, with Jane Scott producing her follow-up to her Oscar-nominated Shine.

Head On is an enduring Australian film in many ways because of the ground it breaks and the lines it presumes to cross with a bravery still very seldom seen in that industry. A terrific inclusion into the canon of queer cinema, 4 stars.

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