Kriv Stenders double feature: The Illustrated Family Doctor (2005), Lucky Country (2009)

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In a recent interview with The Age, director Kriv Stenders characterises his ability to continue working as a marker of success. He’s not wrong. Sift through the back catalogue of films covered on Down Under Flix and you’ll find an abundance of directors who debuted and bowed out with a single film (e.g. Dating the Enemy’s Megan Simpson Huberman, Beyond Innocence’s Scott Murray, Bondi Tsunami’s Rachael Lucas) or who struggled to generate output following earlier successes. Stenders remains productive and prolific, with a new film, Australia Day, on this year’s festival circuit and a television remake of Wake in Fright in the works. He’s also found a measure of mainstream success with his Red Dog films. The first, 2011’s Red Dog, is a modern family classic, a spunky, funny tearjerker and one of the best local films of the 21st century. Its follow-up, 2016’s Red Dog: True Blue, got a lukewarm reception but it’s a nice old school Australian bildungsroman with a light touch and a canine co-star in the Storm Boy/Blue Fin tradition. The films that launched Stenders’ career, however, are very different animals.

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Metal Skin (1994)

EMBIGGEN Metal Skin

Director: Geoffrey Wright

Stars: Aden Young, Ben Mendelsohn, Tara Morice, Nadine Garner, Chantal Contouri

First viewing, via DVD

Metal Skin is director Geoffrey Wright’s follow-up to Romper Stomper, his controversial, barnstorming 1992 film about young neo-Nazis in Melbourne. That film announced both Wright and star Russell Crowe as ferocious, major new talents, scoring the former a Best Director nomination and the latter a Best Actor gong at that year’s AFI Awards.  Wright remained on Melbourne’s mean streets for Metal Skin (and would revisit them again in 2006’s Macbeth) and the city proves once more a dark, seedy muse for the filmmaker.

The film opens with a distressed scream over pitch black, before cutting to a dazed, visibly injured woman wandering through a maze of shipping containers. It’s a fitting opening for a film that feels, at times, like a celluloid manifestation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. From there, the film plots tragic courses for its four young protagonists: Roslyn (Nadine Garner), the woman glimpsed at film’s start; Dazey (Ben Mendelsohn), her disaffected and cheating boyfriend; Savina (Tara Morice), a troubled young woman who rebels against her devout mother (Chantal Contouri) by dabbling in the dark arts; and Joe (Aden Young), a rodent-faced twentysomething charged with looking after his ill father. When Joe starts a new job alongside Dazey and Savina, he falls for Savina, who is infatuated with Dazey, who uses and discards her, and the film follows the fallout of this damaged love triangle.

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