I have been eager to view this short film from Ana Kokkinos for some time. Her first feature "Head On" still resonates with me more than 10 years after seeing it and I was interested to see her artistic evolution. And I must say the artistic leaps from "Only The Brave" to "Head On" were dramatic.
Alex, a young half-Greek girl from Melbourne's outer suburbs is not content with her lot in life. Her mother had left her at an early age, she has recently "dropped" (severed ties) with a girl in her social circle, she refuses to sleep with her boyfriend so they break up and her relationship with her best friend Vicki is frought with several issues, including Vicki's predilection towards pyromania. Alex loves to read, to write, and to create images with words. This talent is appreciated by Vicki and noted by Alex's english teacher Kate.
Alex and Kate share a bond through literature. Vicki noting this is very jealous of their bond that they share through writing though it is purely staged in the classroom. One day when Alex asks Kate for a ride home Kate lends Alex a more provocative work swearing her to secrecy. When Kate comes to school later to find Alex reading from the book she feels violated. It does not diminish there friendship. Kate takes Alex to a poetry reading. They encounter Kate's lover (a male) which angers Alex. The two women proceed to go to the teacher's house. Alex pushes to take the relationship to a more intimate level through various actions. First by offering to secure the teacher marijuana. Secondly by attempting to kiss the teacher who refuses her advances though clearly is moved by something in her young student.
Vicki and Alex's relationship begins to turn sour at this time because of Alex not keeping a promise to run away with Vicki. In her dreams a famous singer, Vicki is more well-known for her troublesome behaviors than anything else. When Alex one night attempts to go see Vicki at her home after hours she stumbles upon a disturbing scene - Vicki's father molesting his daughter. Not only is this scene disturbing because of incest but because the daughter is awaiting this ritual with her backside already facing the door, knowing that her father is going to penetrate her from boyfriend. As the young girls body shakes from the hard penetration she looks up to see her best friend outside watching in horror. The suprise and shame in Vicki's face is beyond words and is still vivid in her mind.
Alex runs to Kate's home to tell her what she saw. She is greeted at the door by Kate's male lover and runs off in disgust. The next day at school Vicki is in class cutting her hair with a razor and threatening to cut anyone to comes near her. Alex slowly approaches her, and what passes between them in silence is one understanding her friend's pain and the other shamed by knowing her secret. Vicki runs away. The frantic teacher runs to the principal's office. Alex runs to Kate who reprimands Alex for stepping over her boundaries.
A furious Alex runs home. She packs the dress that Vicki so admires, a photo of herself with her mother and is intent to save Vicki from her situation by this time keeping her promise - to run away to Sydney with her. As she runs the streets she finds that Vicki has set fire to the school's library. This has poignancy as earlier in the film Vicki added books to a small fire which infuriated Alex. Alex knowing Vicki's secret has made her feel more violated than any rape could, so the burning of the library is symbolic. Alex finds her at the top of an industrial platform. Doused in gasoline, Vicki sets fire to herself. Alex attempts to put out the fire but Vicki burns to death. Alex wakes up in the hospital to books by Kate and by a visit from the mother who abandoned her. After leaving the hospital, Alex impales the red dress Vicki so loved on the fence. Leaving behind her friend's dreams of fame, leaving behind the reality of the painful memory of her mother abandoning her, Vicki abandons this life and moves down another road of life.
Writing the review now, I see so many details I did not comprehend until after the film finished. Though the written dialogue for the film is quite flimsy, the focus blurred by lack of strong direction and the budget small, there is a powerful pulse in this story that should really be brought to life again. With some re-writing and a larger budget this film could be transformed into an even more powerful story. The two main characters (Alex & Vicki) and Vicki's mother were all cast in Ana's film "Head On". For me the most haunting character is Vicki's father, who's "upright Policeman" demeanour in a biref kitchen scene admonishing his daughter to tie her hair back and zip up her jacket is even more disturbing when we see a hunched predator moving from a well-lit hallway into the darkness of his daughter's bedroom and raping his only child.
I would have also liked to have seen the Greekness of the film played up more. With the main characters both being Greek it could have really been inter-woven in the story. It could create a more authentic Hellenian film-making approach as well. Patchy & flawed, but the seed of something strong. Hopefully Ana Kokkinos has more in store for us in her future works.