July 11, 2012
On that list of “films I’m going to see someday,” put down Lou, an Australian production from 2010.
This movie, shot entirely in New South Wales, takes up a well worn topic — the relationship between a child and an elderly relative — but does it with a sensitive and touching twist. The story, written and directed by Belinda Chayko, focuses on a rural family that consists of a young mother and her three daughters, living in difficult straits since the husband-father walked off about ten months before. The mother, Rhia (Emily Barclay), is under enormous pressure because of unpaid bills, her inability to properly parent her children, and her need for a male figure in her life.
Rhia’s oldest daughter, 11-year-old Lou (Lilly Bell Tindley) is particularly troubled by the family’s circumstances which have poisoned her relationship with her mother. In a desperate attempt to increase the family’s income, Rhia agrees through a social service agency to take care of her husband’s father, Doyle (John Hurt), who is exhibiting symptoms of dementia. Since Rhia works, this arrangement means that Doyle is often left in the custody of Lou, who already resents his presence in the house. Over time, though, the girl develops first an interest in Doyle, a former merchant seaman who loves to talk about his adventures in the Pacific, and then an affection for the old man.
The time Doyle spends with the three girls — including an unauthorized trip to the beach — lifts his spirits but further alienates Lou from her disapproving mother. Doyle often fixes his imagination on his former wife, who left him many years before, and he begins to believe that she has returned to him in the person of Lou — an idea that Lou at first discourages but then, out of compassion for Doyle, permits to continue.
This is a slow-paced story in a bucolic setting but the sustained tension in the family’s life and the dangerous potential in Lou’s alliance with Lou makes the movie compelling.
This movie was the debut Lilly Bell Tindley, who was 11 at the time, and that makes her performance all the more remarkable. Chayko liked to put the camera right in Tindley’s beautiful and expressive face, and Tindley made the most of it. We should be hearing more from this young lady.
The well-traveled John Hurt is a heart-breaking but endearing figure as Doyle, and Barclay is wholly convincing as the confused and beleaguered mother.