Delicately handled, exquisite to look at and charmingly acted, Richard Gray’s debut feature proves to be another lovely addition to the roster of quality Australian films for 2010. Gray’s film has been gestating ever since coming in second on the Australian Project Greenlight five years ago, and that passion is evident in the finished product, but the film is perhaps too laid back for its own good and mirrors the calm, breezy vibe of the Mildura region where Summer Coda is set, a little bit too much.
Rachael Taylor (Cedar Boys) stars as violinist Heidi, returning home to Victoria to visit the funeral of her estranged father. Whilst hitchhiking her way to Mildura, she meets a charming, if damaged, orange farmer named Michael (Alex Dimitriades, Head On). Heidi is shunned by her father’s latest wife (a steely cameo by the ever-reliable Susie Porter, Two Hands) and she retreats to Michael’s company as well as that of the summertime harvesters he employs (including Nathan Phillips and Angus Sampson). They spend the summer together before Heidi returns to her life in America, but as friendship and romance blossoms, so too do these characters awake from the dormant slumber their troubled histories have enforced upon them.
Firstly, it must be stated just how gorgeous Summer Coda is. It is drenched in a sun-kissed light that only country Victoria can provide. The rich greens and oranges of the Mildura orchards blend beautifully with the tangy yellows and blues of the Murray Darling sky – they really pop off of the screen. Greg De Marigny’s cinematography has really served the film well and there’s no doubt that a large part of the enjoyment to be had with the film are in direct correlation to it. The actors, too, are to be credited. Dimitriadis has never been this warm and likable on screen. Taylor, too, proves that she is a woman whose talents are just getting better and better. Meanwhile the supporting players are all endearing, including a wonderful Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) and Cassandra Magrath (Wolf Creek) who adds luminous details to her character.
Unfortunately, while Gray’s sturdy direction is to be admired, his screenplay occasionally drifts off course and, as lovely as it all is, sometimes feels as if it doesn’t have enough dramatic thrust to sustain its near two-hour running time. Like a warm afternoon with a cool breeze on a Mildura veranda, time can go by without much happening. Summer Coda has a lot to recommend – and a recommendation this review most surely is – but its visual splendour can often be in service of a film that doesn’t quite have enough to say.
Summer Coda is released nationally in Australia on the 21st of October.
Director: Richard Gray
Cast: Rachael Taylor, Alex Dimitriades, Nathan Phillips, Angus Sampson, Cassandra Magrath, Pacharo Mzembe, Daniel Frederiksen, Kate Bell, Susie Porter, Reef Ireland and Jacki Weaver.