Film Reviews

Of an Age

Published March 31, 2023
Ebony, Adam & Kolya.. who's the odd one out?

Goran Stolevski announced his arrival as a force in Australian cinema with his debut feature of last year, You Won’t be Alone – a gender bending horror movie set in 19th century Macedonia. Those who responded enthusiastically to that weird, very original production, may find themselves less enamoured of his follow-up, Of an Age.

You Won’t Be Alone had some modest star power in Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace, whereas Of an Age features a group of young Australian actors who will be unknown to most audiences. The two leads, Elias Anton and Thom Green, are good enough to become familiar faces, but for the time being these names are not drawcards.

It’s subject matter that will determine the kind of audiences the film attracts, and in part, the reviews it receives. Of an Age is a sad, fractured, gay romance set in the suburbs of Melbourne in 1999. Stolevski is gay, and this is obviously a project with huge personal resonance, but it’s also a self-indulgence.

Steven Spielberg waited until the age of 75 before committing his autobiography to film in The Fabelmans. Stolevski, in his late 30s, has already given us the story of a young man of Balkan origins discovering his sexuality in suburban Melbourne. Perhaps he simply had to get it out of his system, but Of an Age is not an easy experience on many levels. Inevitably, given our obsession with identity politics, the film is already being characterised as an LGBQT or Queer drama, which will deter some viewers and lead others to celebrate it in an uncritical manner.

The perverse cultural puritanism of our age decrees that any film by a queer or Indigenous director, or simply by a female director, must be inherently wonderful. The pernicious flip-side to this mindset is that anything by an old white hetero male must be no good, hence the appalling neglect of The Fabelmans during this year’s awards season. I know with absolute certainty there will be those who would expect us to believe Stolevski’s film is superior to Spielberg’s. It’s a laughable proposition, but criticism today seems more concerned with making pronouncements rather than informed assessments.

By now, even the straightest of movie-goers should be accustomed to the idea that a love story need not be strictly boy meets girl. Love and sex transcend gender and work on a human-to-human basis, although it has taken mainstream audiences a long while to come to terms with this idea.

Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) remains the breakthrough film. Although neither Lee nor the two principal actors were gay, they gave us a powerful, moving portrayal of a mutual attraction that became too strong to overcome. The emotional dilemmas were projected so vividly on screen that every viewer could empathise, regardless of their own orientation.

Of an Age attempts something similar in the soulless Australian suburbs, but falls short, being murky where Lee had clarity. I know there has been a lot of sentimental nonsense written about the portrayal of suburbia in Australian art and cinema, but this is not Stolevski’s view. Having grown up in a housing commission in suburban Macleod, all he remembers is the emptiness of the place.

Those who warble about the variety and creativity of suburban life were obviously raised in the wealthier suburbs. Anyone with an interest in art, film or literature who spent their formative years in the outer fringe has memories of a wasteland.

This is the suburbia we find in Of an Age – a collection of red-brick houses inhabited by a range of ethnic groups, who preserve their languages and customs at home, while adapting their working hours to the bland materialism of Australian life. Elias Anton plays Nikola – or Kolya – a young man from a Serbian family. The film begins as he is preparing for the finals of a dance contest, but his plans are thrown into disarray when his partner, Ebony (Hattie Hook), wakes up to find herself on a beach in distant Altona. She went on a bender the night before and is now so far away they’ll never have time to make the contest. Nevertheless, she insists that Kolya comes to her rescue.

His only option is to contact Ebony’s brother, Adam (Thom Green), to drive him to Altona. On the journey, the two young men have time to talk and get to know each other, but it’s only towards the end that Adam reveals he’s gay. If we know this already it’s because the camera has spent so much time showing us the travellers exchanging significant glances and copping furtive glimpses of each other’s bodies. Their conversation is long, and frankly dull, as they mention authors such as Borges or Kafka, who wouldn’t appear on many outer suburban reading lists.

Ebony is a shocker who talks a-mile-a-minute in a nasal twang that could pierce a brick wall. She wants to be an actress but is clearly destined for a less glamorous fate. During the drive, Adam and Kolya have already bonded so successfully they feel a conspiratorial superiority to frazzled Ebony.

As the film progresses, Kolya’s sense of his own otherness grows stronger, and he knows he has fallen for Adam. It takes a long time before the two finally get together, then go their separate ways. In the second part of the story, set in 2010, they meet again when both return to Melbourne for Ebony’s wedding. They are older and more experienced, but that single night of passion has left an indelible impression.

Part two is hardly more than a coda, but it is brisker and more coherent. The lengthy first part will test viewers’ patience, as it sacrifices artistry for an intense form of realism that allows the story to drag and renders much of the dialogue muttered and incomprehensible. It’s inevitable that Thom and Kolya will end in each others’ arms, so the only issue for the viewer is how long will it take to arrive at this destination. When the film comes to cable one suspects many will be putting Kolya’s agonising search for self-awareness on fast-forward.

Of an Age

Written & directed by Goran Stolevski

Starring: Elias Anton, Thom Green, Hattie Hook, Grace Graznak, Kasuni Imbulana, Jack Kenny, Jessica Lu

Australia, MA 15+, 100 mins


Published in the Australian Financial Review, 1 April, 2023