Toronto
2 min

Chock a block full of bleak

Aussie flick from the school of hard knocks

BRUTAL LOVE. Alex Dimitriades is Ari, the compelling but fucked up central character of the amazingly despairing Head On. Credit: Xtra files

Complex, provocative, frustrating, visceral, bleak, unrelenting.



A knock-out, drag-’em-through-the-sweaty-mud day in the life of Ari, a queer Greek boy coming of age in unwelcoming Melbourne, Australia. Ana Kokkinos’s first film, Head On, is hard to classify.



“What’s been interesting for us with this film, is that different people respond very differently to the material,” says Kokkinos. “There’s a level on which you’re pissed off at Ari. When I read the book , I had that reaction. I felt, ‘Come on, you know…’ It’s infuriating on some levels. But that’s part of the character.”



The original book, Loaded, by Greek Australian Christos Tsiolkas, hit a chord among young adult readers, attaining cult status, much the way the book and film of Trainspotting took off in the UK.



The story is particularly un-Australian – no barbee nor croc’ in sight. Instead, Tsiolkas and Kokkinos have turned their eyes on their own subculture, that of Greek immigrants living in Australia’s urban heartland – with all its penned in relations and familial expectations.



“Ari’s a very complex and contradictory character,” explains Kokkinos. “It’s those contradictions in Ari that we were interested in exploring. On one hand, he’s totally rebelling against his Greek background. And yet, he’s actually connected to his Greek background. When he has the dance with his father in the kitchen, there’s an incredible moment of connection between them – but then we see the way in which it turns sour.”



Kokkinos’ mesmerizing camera work and editing, along with an imposing up-to-date soundtrack, creates a heightened realism that gives the film the feel of a pounding pop video. But everything is overwhelmed by the story – it exhausts the audience.



The unrelenting failure of Ari to connect and stay connected, is the greatest frustration with this award-winning film. Every relationship, every situation, every opportunity – it all turns sour. Sex, family, drugs, dancing, friendship, they all end up in battles – usually frenetic, screaming battles.



Does this boy never get a break? This is my only complaint (besides the fact that Kokkinos cast a late-20s Greek hunk in a teenage role). There is no redemptive moment, or even the sign of one, on the horizon.



“He just stuffs up,” says Kokkinos. “There’s a level on which you do want Ari to grow up. He’s an incredibly prickly and difficult character. That’s what’s exciting about him. In the original material he fucks up with everybody. But he fucks up because there’s an intensity in all the relationships – because there’s actually connections.



“When people come out to see the film, some say, ‘I loved it’ and the other person says, ‘I hated it.’ What ends up happening is it generates discussion and debate. And everyone says, ‘I better go and see it for myself.'”



Head On opens Fri, Aug 20.