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A Delightful Journey: Playing for Charlie

It takes an enormity of passion, self-belief and sheer force of will to get a film made, so directors can tend to be rather zealous of their trade. New Zealand-born, New York educated, Australian-dweller Pene Patrick is certainly no exception. On the eve of the release of her first feature film, Playing for Charlie, we shared a moment to talk about life as a director in Australia.

Playing for Charlie, tells the story of 16 year-old Tony (Jared Daperis) who yearns for a life bigger than the one in which his ties currently bind him to. His faith in rugby union, and his own talent as a player, are what he relies on to help him achieve that dream. Tony is a child forced to become an adult well before his time. His father has recently died, his mother, Paula (Jodie Rimmer), has a physically debilitating disease, and while she works nights, Tony cares for his baby brother, the eponymous Charlie. Unspoken loss, financial struggle and a mother clinging to emotional and physical survival weigh heavily down on this family. The naivety of youth, not yet worn down by life, enables Tony to have hope and determination to change their circumstances.

The film isn’t depressing or exhausting; there’s a lightness to the story which makes it a pleasure to watch. Seventeen year-old Jared Daperis gives an excellent performance; at times fragile and gentle, and in others there’s a perfectly delivered naïve steeliness. Jodie Rimmer’s Paula is grounded in truth; mothers everywhere will relate to her on a personal level.

Pene Patrick both wrote and directed Playing for Charlie. While it may be her first feature, Pene’s understanding of people shows in the honesty of the story and the deftness of the performances she elicits from her actors. The film breathes with life. The beautiful, atmospheric music is by Lisa Gerrard, member of now-defunct 80’s goth band Dead Can Dance who were major contributors to the soundtrack for classic (stoner-favourite) Baraka.

Cinematographer Leilani Hannah also does an exceptional job. Every shot is gorgeous; her use of lightness and darkness are so evocative they are practically characters in the film. Pene describes the light coming out of darkness as a metaphor for what is happening in the boy’s life. She found she was “very inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales in that they gave me courage that not everything had to make sense” or be wrapped up in a neat little bow. Her goal was to make a film that “people would understand with their emotions”.

As is often the case, being unfettered by the “right” way to do things was a boon to everyone involved, as Pene said told them all from the outset, “if there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to, try it now. There’s no such thing as failure. And I was lucky because our investor just loved art for arts sake and said just do your own thing”.

Getting a project off the ground is challenging, particularly for a first time director. Pene recalls that “being a newcomer is quite intimidating… you find yourself saying things just because you think people will just like them because they’re familiar… but I had to hit myself over the head…[because] the people who invested in the film did it because they liked the story and were moved by it”. It was Pene’s faith in what she was doing that led her to the right people. As she was travelling, she would discuss her idea to everyone she met, and eventually she found just the right person who believed in her idea enough to take it forward. “It’s been a hard long road”, she says, “It’s been nine years… but things have a momentum of their own… it’s been a delightful journey”.

Pene was determined to self-distribute to ensure that the profits for her film went to the investor and the filmmaker rather than the coffers of a huge distribution and exhibition conglomerate. She’s taken the film to many festivals including those in Sydney, Melbourne, Rome, London, Rome and Shanghai, and every showing has garnered praise.

Pene Patrick

Playing for Charlie is opening in very limited cinema release in Sydney for just one night only at the Randwick Ritz Carlton on Thursday, May 6.

words: Kristen Hodges


May 5, 2010 at 12:54 PM james said...

I saw this film at the Ritz last Sunday as was really disappointed

The story is ok, (nothing original) but has some pretty pacing problems especially towards the end, maybe some loose ends could have been tied up but these arn't show-stoppers

The acting performances are good as well, across all three leads, although I feel there wasn't a lot of effort made in getting some better than average performances out of some minor characters.

But what should have been perfectly watchable film was ruined by some awful directing! some stuff that a highschool student with a film studies class would have known better to avoid

for example

- turning any slightly pivotal/emotional scene into slow/mo god-awful music video with an unbalanced and overused soundtrack. I really wish should could have trusted the actors to act rather than ruin it with the overbearing soundtrack.

- some these scenes put some people to sleep in the theater.

- and some of them were such terrible movie cliches that were so awful and predictable that you just had to groan, or laugh, but hard to take the film seriously afterwards

- i know the melbourne western suburbs well enough to know the rugby union storyline is unbelievable from the outset, but i guess this would be a problem for most people. if it was about soccer or AFL though, then it would have actually worked.

I'm assuming she's taken some time to fund the film itself? so he has had complete control over a lot of the decisions made - some decent peer/mentor review might have saved this film.


May 5, 2010 at 2:17 PM james said...

minor corrections:

would=wouldnt (be a problem for most people)

& "so _she_ has had complete control..."

May 9, 2010 at 10:16 PM Ivar said...

I highly recommend this visually stunning film! The directing and photography of this film varies from exquisite to simply breathtaking. There was a masterful use of the moving image, here: from the delicate ways in which the shots were composed to the subtle uses of particular, meaningful transition effects.

I was completely taken in and seduced by the highly polished visuals of this film that it drew me into the emotions of the main character, Tony (played by Jared Daperis). The scenes of the smoking factories in the western suburbs of Melbourne, for example, have a strange, mildly eerie beauty to them. They are not just ugly pollutants here or symbols of everything wrong with modern life. We are invited to see them in other ways: the shots remind us that, for many of us, industry forms the backdrop of our lives; they are also a means of livelihood and employment. Certainly, it is the backdrop of Tony’s life – and, one can only wonder if, for all the hope that he may have for excelling at rugby union, will he have the luck and gusto to escape his impoverished life? We don’t know, but we are invited to speculate, and the film does this with skilful subtlety.

There are also several, minor but powerful visual touches to the film, especially in the transition effects sometimes used between scenes. Take for example, the shot of the now dismantled Melbourne Eye: it appears, at first, as an innocuous symbol of the city of Melbourne in the background. But it becomes, for a moment, a mandala of shifting colours that teeters from and then into focus. Maybe it doesn’t sound amazing from the way I’ve described it – but let me assure you, I had to catch my breath! I guess the fact that, for example, the main character suffers from problems with his vision adds to the poignancy of representations like this. Certainly it added to what might be called the film’s visual language and polish.

This film does well with what is essentially a challenging task: conveying emotions between and from Australian men who are, generally speaking, better known for precisely not doing so. To be convincing, the script writer had to be careful not to over-verbalize the emotion and she did well in this regard. The emotional content of the film is, instead, conveyed by the understated (but all the more powerful) acting from Jared Daperis, the deft composition of visual representations and the stunning soundtrack. When I heard that Lisa Gerrard composed the soundtrack for the film, I was intrigued to see how her otherworldly music would match the mundane nature of what, on the face of it, is a rugby union selection narrative. But as became clear, while such things may be very much of this world, they also can have an enormous symbolic meaning, and are very much invested with emotion, emotion that Lisa’s soundtrack amplifies beautifully.

Playing For Charlie provides a refreshing new vision of a Melbourne teenagers life, one that is not clichéd but that is realistic without being heavy-handed or angst-ridden in depicting the financial and other hardships that so many face. It’s also exquisitely beautiful. Do yourself a favour – see this film - it kicks several goals.

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