Rotterdam 2024 Review: FLATHEAD, Australian Pastoral

Australian filmmaker Jaydon Martin blurs the lines between documentary and narrative storytelling, offering a lyrical exploration of life's complexities through the lens of a blue-collar community in rural Australia.

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Rotterdam 2024 Review: FLATHEAD, Australian Pastoral

The International Film Festival Rotterdam has recently demonstrated a keen aptitude for scouting and selecting emerging Australian cinema, featuring works such as James Vaughan's Friends and Strangers and David Easteal's The Plains. This year's edition introduced another Australian filmmaker, Jaydon Martin, with his debut film Flathead.

Martin's work serves as a poetical exploration of blue-collar life in Australia, merging documentary realism with narrative storytelling to present a comprehensive and unembellished examination of human complexities.

Flathead, drawing from the traditions of British kitchen sink realism, centers on a genuine portrayal of life as experienced by Cass Cumerford (a character actor known for roles in Mad Max: Fury Road and Talk to Me), a septuagenarian confronting the challenges of his existence while seeking redemption and spiritual elevation upon his return to Bundaberg, Queensland.


Widower Cass returns to his childhood home, encountering a diverse group of blue-collar locals with whom he shares insights from his past life. It becomes evident that Cass's earlier years were marked by simplicity, characterized by limited activities leading initially to speed use, and subsequently, he and his wife escalated to heroin. Cass's life, devoid of idyllic illusions, is navigated with a pragmatic stoicism as he lives out his remaining days.

Chain-smoking and open to connect with people, Cass partakes in numerous social interactions, many of which are tied to his pursuit of spiritual fulfillment. His return to his hometown is driven by a search for a deeper meaning, a quest that, in the rural setting, often intersects with conventional religious practices or new-age alternatives.

Nonetheless, Martin introduces a pendant character from a younger generation to Cass, Andrew Wong, who operates the local fish and chip shop and also engages as an online influencer through fitness and motivational content.

Their paths intersect under significant circumstances: Andrew's father, the proprietor of the restaurant, passes away during filming, facilitating a poignant connection between Cass, a widower without a son, and Andrew, who has just lost his father. This encounter appears to be destined, as Andrew introduces Cass to the principles of Buddhism.


Flathead occupies the space between documentary and fiction, creating what Martin refers to as "dramatized verité." This hybrid approach distinguishes itself from the typical festival offerings in docu-fiction, which often employ the raw aesthetics of documentary filmmaking for fictional narrative purposes.

While Martin maintains the precise balance of documentary and fiction elements as a closely held secret, the film presents itself as a documentary executed with the polished aesthetics of a fictional film. Cinematographer Brodie Poole maintains meticulous and deliberate compositions, incorporating occasional intentional camera movements to preserve the documentary feel within its formalistic framework.

Poole's cinematography represents a notable facet of the film. Opting for a compelling monochrome palette, Poole and Martin have deliberately eschewed elaborate camera maneuvers. Nevertheless, Poole's framing and angles result in compositions reminiscent of both journalistic and artistic photography.

Striving for naturalism — a quality he successfully achieves in numerous scenes — there is also a clear element of stylization. This approach does not detract from the authenticity of the setting but rather serves to underscore it, offering visual commentary without compromising the film's grounded reality.

Beyond its cinematography, the distinctive blend of Flathead is further enhanced by its structural and semi-improvisational narrative approach. Editor Patrick McCabe, who also serves as the film's producer, preserves a linear progression reflective of the protagonist's journey(ing).


Echoing Poole's method, scenes are crafted as individual, self-contained vignettes, interspersed with visuals of the rural landscape and community. These segments do not always directly involve the primary characters, contributing to a broader portrayal of the milieu and its inhabitants.

Furthermore, Andrew's narrative thread is woven from his daily routines and excerpts from his videos, which at times introduces a surreal dimension and challenges the traditional cohesion of a fiction film. Flathead exhibits a level of formal polish uncharacteristic of a straightforward documentary, yet its decentralized and loosely structured approach sets it apart from conventional fiction cinema.

The refusal to be neatly categorized generates a compelling tension and curiosity that propels the narrative forward as Martin delves into the intricacies of addiction, race, faith, masculinity, grief, perseverance, and the quest for meaning in rural Australia, alongside a journey towards redemption.

The narrative scope encompasses themes typically found in fiction features, yet the film's aesthetics and formal approach maintain a subdued and DIY quality. Flathead explores community life, personal histories, and the human condition within the working-class (sub)culture, elevating itself beyond its initial intrigue as a cinematic endeavor.

Flathead received the Special Jury Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2024.

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IFFR 2024Jaydon MartinRotterdam 2024

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