As one of film’s many drawbacks in imitating life, dramatising mental conditions which can leave considerable damage on the sufferer and their loved ones simultaneously leaves a viewer both touched and disgusted. Furthermore, as we saw in Lovely, Still, it’s hard to shed the implausibility when it becomes a plot device. Lou, by Australian writer/director Belinda Chayko, attempts to correct this, ignoring any potential cultural stigma that the ignorant could attach to its premise which makes the uncomfortable moments an unexpected tragedy.
A rural bound, destitute family of four females, abandoned by the father, are on their last legs when to aid themselves financially they take into care their estranged grandfather Doyle (John Hurt), who suffers from Alzheimer’s. The one most agitated by their new tenant is eldest daughter Lou (played by newcomer Lily Bell-Tindley), but with a heavily strained relationship with her single mother Rhia (Emly Barclay) and company only in the form of her two younger sisters she sheds her social barriers when Doyle’s faltering memory makes him mistake her for his long lost love.
Arguably the most unconventional coming-of age movie to date, Lou throughout has a underlying theme of discovery in each of its characters. Making the blood related carers and sufferer unaware of each other’s existence prior to the story is smart in that the audience can piece together Doyle’s life only as well as they can, whilst the eponymous character’s naivety in everything from relationships to her grandfather’s illness clashes with that of someone who is trying to recollect their life’s experiences at every waking moment, culminating in a bond that is every bit touching as it is disturbing.
Whilst it eschews the everyday trifles of one with the disease to focus on the notable incidents, the scenarios never seem beyond belief. The notion that an untrained, lone adult would be given such responsibility or that a headstrong girl like Lou could be so clueless that maintaining Doyle’s wellbeing is a source of income is a little farfetched, sure, but everything is left low key enough to keep questioning to a minimum.
The second to none strength of the film are the performances, and whilst a role encompassing a life-changing lesson in the nature of love and the world would be daunting for many an experienced actor, Bell-Tindley brazenly takes with it a naturalism we can only hope will brew into a fully fledged career. If you’re like me and think you’ve seen John Hurt at his best then from his very first delayed line the confusion, irritable behaviour and pity he injects into Doyle will surely boost your admiration for the man. The seminal scenes of the film come from watching these two seeking escape from their strife within each other, with Lou buying into the fantasies presented to her that have long bordered on taboo. As a whole everyone else is well casted but one or two lines are mumbled beyond comprehension, a trapping that tends to annoy one in three filmgoers.
What holds back the piece as a whole is pacing problems brought on by questionable editing. In many cases it feels like scenes between scenes are absent; the use of small second long scenes meant to represent the passing of time could have been replaced by further doses of character development or story driven events. That said those miniscule moments are brilliantly filmed in the farmyard landscapes, accompanied by an excellent simplistic score that uses a variety of stringed instruments and talented vocal artists.
Whether Lou’s successful handling of tough material is, alongside The Black Balloon, evidence of how Australian film makers understand the issues better or a mere coincidence is debateable, but undeniably it’s a film both bold and brilliant both in its plot and players
Words > Graham Ashton