Dir/scr: Miro Bilbrough. Australia. 2012. 89mins

Being Venice

Though this debut feature from New Zealand director/writer Miro Bilbrough is a self-confessed “love letter to Sydney” it comes with a European city in its title and something of a European sensibility. As an officially selected project at the 2009 CineMart, the financing market associated with the Rotterdam Film Festival, it attracted funding from French and German companies before Australian partners came on board.

The acting throughout is impressive.

The resulting movie, first shown at the Sydney Film Festival, is a thoughtful, adult character piece — leisurely paced, female centred, lushly designed, unlikely to break from the limited arthouse release that begins locally in October.

This eponymous Venice (Alice McConnell) is a sensual 40ish would-be poet living in a cramped inner-city apartment. She is shocked when her boyfriend announces that he “needs some space” on the very morning her estranged father, a writer, arrives from New Zealand to conduct a week’s creative writing workshop for teenagers.

Fussy, “ex-hippy” Arthur (Garry McDonald) stays uncomfortably and unhelpfully on his daughter’s couch as she turns to former boyfriend Lenny (Simon Stone), intruding on his relationship with the pregnant Irene (Katie Wall). It takes a while, but Venice eventually gets some long-hidden family information from Arthur that might allow her to move on.

The acting throughout is impressive. Venice is played with considerable intensity and adult sexuality by McConnell, and veteran Australian comic actor McDonald (TV’s Mother and Son) gives a fully rounded portrait of cautious, disapproving Arthur — constantly jet-lagged, teeth in a glass overnight, writing protest letters to Vladimir Putin and various dictators.

Most striking is Bilbrough’s artistic design. Greatly assisted by cinematographer Bonnie Elliott and production designer Alexander Holmes, she goes for painterly compositions and carefully selected locations, with an on-screen bow to the works of American artist Edward Hopper.

Production companies: Dragonet Films, Firesign

Aust/NZ distribution: Curious Film

International sales: Wide Management, http://widemanagement.com

Producers: Karen Radzyner, Michael Wrenn

Cinematography: Bonnie Elliott

Editor: Adrian Rostirolla

Production designer: Alexander Holmes

Music: Andrew Lancaster, David McCormack

Website: www.dragonetfilms.com/beingvenice

Main cast: Alice McConnell, Garry McDonald, Simon Stone, Katie Wall, Henry Nixon