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Shoestring budgets and disaffected youth: why Australian film is ripe for a mumblecore revival | Sydney film festival 2021

“Like Bridget Jones directed by John Cassavetes” was how one Guardian evaluate described the primary mumblecore film.

The film, Funny Ha Ha, was US director Andrew Bujalski’s debut: a shoestring price range affair following a forged of twentysomethings suspended in postgraduate ennui – not a lot coming of age as fumbling their approach in direction of maturity by way of awkward encounters and half-baked conversations.

Premiering in 2002 at a small festival in Alabama, important acclaim quietly snowballed. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than a nebulous scene of interconnected administrators had sprung up within the film’s wake – American indie pioneers together with the Duplass brothers, Joe Swanberg and the late Lynn Shelton, who made their title off movies which eschewed any definable narrative in favour of plotlines as meandering as their millennial characters.

Its heyday within the US could also be lengthy gone, diffusing into the early 2010s with more and more mainstream offshoots – together with, notably, the TV sequence Girls. But a latest contingent of Australian administrators are providing one thing of a mumblecore revival, with movies reminiscent of Hot Mess, Pretty Good Friends, and Chocolate Oyster leaning into the significantly native inclinations of the style – if it is one in any respect.

James Vaughan’s first characteristic Friends and Strangers, which is streaming digitally at this year’s Sydney film festival, is likely to be certainly one of them – although he’s not totally offered on the label.


“‘Mumblecore’ is something that I’ve intuitively disliked,” he says over Zoom. “I guess it just depends on how we’re defining it.”

This contest over mumblecore’s parameters has plagued the style since its inception, when it was first coined after the quick and unfastened high quality of its dialogue, so naturalistic it was typically unintelligible. “It doesn’t mean anything to me,” Bujalski himself mentioned in 2013.

Still, “there is definitely crossover between my film and mumblecore”, Vaughan concedes. “Mumblecore is coming from a generation of people that have grown up with the internet, and this idea of social difficulty in real-life [settings] is just a fact of life.”


Friends and Strangers’ protagonist, Ray, embodies this problem. He wanders via Sydney like a modern-day slacker, listlessly drifting via a sequence of unlucky occasions: a failed sexual encounter, a damaged down automobile, and a neurotically rich images shopper within the jap suburbs.

Self-funded Australian film Friends and Strangers
Self-funded Australian film Friends and Strangers has dialogue that captures the clumsy idiosyncrasies of actual dialog.

The film itself additionally conforms to what most proponents of mumblecore will agree are its integral traits: made on the scent of an oily rag (and, on this case, solely self-funded), typically with a forged of pals and collaborators, with dialogue that captures the clumsy idiosyncrasies of actual dialog.

And, importantly, it privileges disaffected characters over motion: significantly, characters who’re caught in what Monash University’s head of film and display screen research, Claire Perkins, calls a “protracted adolescence”.

“[Characters] in that post-college era … messing around, not really knowing what they’re doing, not being able to get their lives together.”


Similarly to mumblecore, ‘some of the most iconic Australian films have celebrated ordinariness’ – like Muriel’s Wedding
Similarly to mumblecore, ‘some of the most iconic Australian films have celebrated ordinariness’ – reminiscent of Muriel’s Wedding.

Mumblecore takes inspiration from predecessors reminiscent of French New Wave, she says – a style that additionally fashioned a bedrock for Friends and Strangers. But as a lot because the Europeans have laid declare to this type of wistful, drifting insouciance, may we additionally discover one thing distinctly Australian about mumblecore too?

“In terms of the action of mumblecore, it’s very every day, mundane – I think that’s quite Australian,” Perkins says. “Some of the most famous, iconic Australian films over time have really celebrated that ordinariness in a particular way.”

Like which movies? “Muriel’s Wedding!” she immediately responds, alongside different classics which flip mundanity into each comedic and emotional goldmines: The Castle, Kath & Kim, Love Serenade.

For Steve Jaggi, whose film Chocolate Oyster premiered at Sydney film festival in 2018, Australian mumblecore is about reclaiming a interval of life – your 20s – which has historically been misrepresented on Australian screens.

Born in Canada, Jaggi noticed a disjunct when he first moved to Sydney.

“What it meant to be Australian was so disconnected from Australian television and films,” he says. “What I really noticed when I moved here … is that amongst all the people I met, there was a complete disdain for Australian content.”

Chocolate Oyster, then, was an try at closing the divide. Jaggi wished viewers to see themselves in his film’s characters – a disparate group of pals, largely unfortunate in love, going via the motions and chores of life with virtually solely improvised dialogue.

“I think what mumblecore does incredibly well is reflect a time and place,” he says.

“Maybe that’s why it’s mushrooming here. More and more film-makers are saying, ‘Well, hold on. I’m not being represented.’

“The stories are inherently quite small, and in those stories you can explore very specific pieces of society.”

Vaughan agrees: the dimensions of Friends and Strangers, in all its low-stakes intimacy, permits for a narrative that speaks to a significantly Australian shade of alienation. “Looking at Australia, we’re a society that is quite dissatisfied with where the country has been going, what the future of the country is going to be.”

The film captures a era who’re “anxious and depressed and unhappy about their own situation, politically and socially”.

“It’s a national malaise.”

  • Friends and Strangers is screening digitally at 2021 Sydney film festival 2021 from 12 November, and is out there now on Mubi within the UK

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