REVIEW

A Family: The unexpected Australian movie filmed in Ukraine

A Family, not yet classified. 93 minutes. 3 stars

What images are conjured into your head when you think "Australian film"?

It might be Mick Dundee's classic "That's not a knife" with Paul Hogan's leather skinned smirk behind it, or Toni Collette grinning in a wedding dress, or Hugo Weaving walking through the desert in a frock, or perhaps the saturated orange palette of Wake in Fright?

What probably won't immediately come to mind are the dour and pallid scenes of impoverished Ukranian suburbs of the 1980s that you will find in Jayden Stevens grim but thoughtful film A Family.

Despite its Aussie writer-director and credits for the funding support of Film Victoria and a handful of other Aussie film folk, this film is set and shot entirely in the Ukraine, in their language.

Marvel shooting Thor: Ragnorok in Brisbane and the Gold Coast makes it an Aussie film as much as an American film, but it also had a cheeky Kiwi sensibility and it had a Hemsworth and a Blanchett, so we could all feel its Aussie-ness peeking through the American accents.

I'm intrigued about what Jayden Stevens was thinking here.

Emerson (Pavlo Lehenhkyi) loves capturing family moments on his camcorder.

Pavlo Lehenkyi as Emerson in A Family. Picture: Pivot Pictures

Pavlo Lehenkyi as Emerson in A Family. Picture: Pivot Pictures

His parents (Mykola Bozhko and Larysa Hraminska), brother (Maksym Derbenyov) and sister sit around the Christmas tree exchanging and unwrapping presents, they converse over dinner.

They look like charming memories being captured.

But after these scenes are "in the can", Emerson pays his non-professional actors and sends them home.

Really a lonely figure, Emerson makes an unexpected connection with Ericka (Luidmyla Zamidra), the girl he hires to play his sister in his fabricated home movies.

When not performing for the camera, she works at the local burrito restaurant.

Invited to Christina's home he meets her mother Christina (Tetiana Kosianchuk), they convince him to act in their own fabricated relationship dynamic.

This is a bizarre film, which some critics have likened to the ironic anti comedy of indie Euro filmmakers like Aki Kaurismaki.

For me, it has the absurdist sensibility of late-night SBS in its early days.

What is Emerson hoping to achieve with his fabricated memories - Stevens doesn't really explain and this isn't the kind of film you should expect anything but questions from.

This week I also saw and reviewed the ninth Fast & Furious film which was all about the family you gather around you, perhaps not actual blood relatives, but the family of friends you want to have you back (and smash cars with).

In his own quirky way, Stevens is exploring the same theme, only on a much more restrained budget.

Working with his co-screenwriter Tom Swinburn, another Aussie who also serves as the film's cinematographer, Stevens makes a strong aesthetic introduction with his debut feature film.

This story A Family: The unexpected Australian movie filmed in Ukraine first appeared on The Canberra Times.