Summer Coda

Tuesday, 19 October, 2010

4 stars

The premise

Summer Coda is the debut feature of Melbourne born filmmaker Richard Gray, and is a project he has had in the pipeline since 2004. Gray has film in his system, working part time in cinemas while at school, and later studying the medium at the Victorian College of The Arts.

Set predominantly in the Mildura fruit growing region of the Australian state of Victoria, “Summer Coda” is the story of two people, Heidi (Rachael Taylor), and Michael (Alex Dimitriades), who become drawn to each other, but are reluctant at first to reveal too much about about themselves.

The Sydney premiere of “Summer Coda” took place on Monday, 18 October, 2010 at the Dendy Opera Quays, Circular Quay, after its Australian and International premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival on 4 August 2010.

The play

Although she was born in Mildura, Heidi has lived in the US state of Nevada with her mother since the age of seven, after her father left the family to be with another woman. Now in her late 20s, some news about him – the first thing she has heard of her father in many years – prompts her to return to Australia.

Clearly travelling on a budget, she resorts to hitch-hiking to reach Mildura after flying into Melbourne, and eventually thumbs a ride with Michael, an apparently easy-going and happy, orange grower. Their first exchanges are tense and guarded, but after a somewhat eventful evening in a pub, they begin to open up to each other a little.

Heidi eventually reaches her father’s home and comes face to face with, Angela (Susie Porter), the woman he left her mother for. Adding to the already high tension of that meeting is Angela’s fear that Heidi only wants money from them. Heidi also learns for the first time that she has a half-brother, Lachlan (Reef Ireland), who is about ten years younger than her.

Feeling less than welcome at the family home, Heidi goes to Michael’s orange orchid, and takes a job helping with the summer harvest. After bonding with the regular, and sometimes rumbustious, gang of fruit pickers who help out on the orchard each year, she gradually comes to learn about a tragic event in Michael’s past that he has kept from her.

The wrap

“Summer Coda” is one of the most endearing Australian films I have seen in recent years. While not an action paced film, and telling a story that reveals itself gradually and in degrees, never for a minute does it become tedious, something that is achieved through the skillful intertwining of the slowly unfolding drama, with its idyllic rural settings.

Solid acting is also underpinned by a humour that is subtle but by no means unnoticeable, while the score is punctuated by Heidi’s impromptu, though usually passionate, violin performances.

It was Gray’s intention to produce a finely crafted film with a particular focus on the cinematography and soundtrack, and with “Summer Coda” he more than succeeds, presenting a work that is replete with an array of beautifully filmed sequences across all of the film’s settings in Melbourne, Mildura, and Reno, Nevada.

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