Dir/scr: Phillipe Mora. US. 2013. 105mins
In Absolutely Modern, Australian director Phillipe Mora tells perhaps one of his most personal stories to date as he examines art and modernism. Mora – who casual fans would most likely know from such films as Communion cult classic The Return of Captain Invincible – unsurprisingly does not tell the tale with any regard for the norms of convention, narrative and accuracy.
Filmed on a shoestring at various locations across the world, amateur actors and a spirit of ramshackle improvisation, the people who will get the most out of the film will be those who less see it as an actual film and more as a piece of modernist art in itself.
Receiving its world premiere a scant few days ago at the T-Mobile New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland – where Mora is something of fixture nowadays – the film is perhaps too outré to do anything beyond the festival circuit (festivals with an artistic / experimental bent should love it) and a home entertainment release. But with Mora attracting a cult following, this should still do relatively well especially for those of previous DIY efforts such as last year’s Continuity.
Mora adopts a clipped British accent and takes on the guise of Lord Steinway – a character who first appeared in Mora’s The Gertrude Stein Mystery or Some Like It Art – whose stated goal is to take us through a history of modernism, especially concentrating upon the tangled lives of the Australian painters who made up the infamous group known as the Heide Circle during the 1950s.
But as Steinway introduces us to the likes of painters Sidney Nolan and John & Sunday Reed, via interviews and recreations of famous works, things get complicated when Steinway’s long lost son Jack (played by former Chelsea, Ajax and Birmingham City football player Mario Melchiot who tries his best at acting – I did say the film was rather outré) turns up. Soon Steinway is dividing his time between being an art critic and enjoying quality time with his long lost boy.
Filmed on a shoestring at various locations across the world, amateur actors and a spirit of ramshackle improvisation, the people who will get the most out of the film will be those who less see it as an actual film and more as a piece of modernist art in itself. Eschewing realism and replete with parody and humour there’s a certain energy in the film that cannot be dismissed – though one would think that those without any interest in modern art or modernism whatsoever may be left rather cold.
Yet, for all its obscure trappings, there is a genuine heart and soul to the film that is something of passion project for Mora. Having grown up in the thick of the Australian arts scene, Mora knew John & Sunday Reed personally and counted their adopted son Sweeney (to whom the film is dedicated to) as one of his best friends as a child. His love for them and desire to tell their complex life story shines through and makes this sometimes strange and DIY affair a worthwhile enterprise,
Production companies: Hard Drive Pictures, Writing On Film Company
Producer: Philippe Mora
Cinematography: Dave Gregory, Kristina Ivanova, Bruno Pheasantry
Editor: Kristina Ivanova
Music: Adrian Konarski
Main cast: Philippe Mora, Mario Melchiot, Mirka Mora, Rena Riffel, Taquila Mockingbird, John Apicella, Sandy Gutman