From Neil Armfield, the director of doomed addict romance Candy
, comes his latest, also doomed romance Holding The Man
. Another adaptation, this time based on the life memoirs of Timothy Conigrave and his epic love for partner John Caleo. The film explores a burgeoning crush from high school right through to complicated love and longing in University and beyond. From the seventies to the early nineties until the bitter end, it is a sad and beautiful story that informs right from the outset that Tim, a full-grown adult writing his book in Italy, has lost the love of his life and is not coping.
Flashbacks and forwards send the viewer through the key moments in their relationship, with some periods of time appearing much stronger and fully-realized than others. Starting at a catholic high school, the boys, initially confused, explore their feelings. This part of the film perfectly captures the whirlwind confusion and rebellion of young love, no matter the gender, and is portrayed confidently and stylistically.
Armfield brings with him romantic elements from snippets of great auteurs; from Sofia Coppola, Xavier Dolan and even Tom Ford, there are beautiful, moving and magic moments of artistic flair that elevate the film out of sad Australian drama territory. Likewise with the soundtrack, which immediately captures the essence of the particular period they are in. The production value is excellent and the difference in years from costume to set design is wonderfully apparent.
The film would be nothing however without the stellar and affecting performances from the two leads, and thankfully they absolutely give it their all. Ryan Corr is Tim, who is flamboyant, deeply sad and desperately in love but becomes irreparably damaged when he learns something truly tragic. Craig Stott is the more stoic and sensible John Caleo who is the strong one in the relationship, but when gears shift and his life begins to run out his performance shrinks into a heart-breaking shrivelled and sick shell of his former self. The supporting cast, which includes some big names are directed well and never trump proceedings; Anthony LaPaglia in particular gives an excellent performance of a mourning yet conflicted parent.
The energy in the film is transferred throughout the decades, with the high school moments providing the most comedy and free-spiritedness. Armfield masterfully directs the boys through three decades and the trials and tribulations their great love runs through bleeds on the screen. From the mundane to the drastic they weather the storm and fight oppression. In the freedom they feel, Armfield depicts each sex scene explicitly, not shying away from the constant unprotected sex.
As the years progress the film hones in on their personal struggles and in the midst of the AIDS epidemic becomes a different beast entirely. Like John who is fading away, the film too changes its scope and focus, wearily depicting the inevitable it becomes harder to watch for all the right reasons.
Holding The Man is a sincere, heart-breaking account of a wonderful love story capsized by the times. It is easy to provoke emotion from the subject matter alone, but Armfield has gone above and beyond to deliver one of the best directed films of the year.
Holding The Man will be the film screened at the MIFF Centrepiece Gala on the 8th August. Cast and crew will be in attendance.
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