[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 2, 2010]
Among the trio of directors crowned as Emerging Masters by the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, Australian Ana Kokkinos seems a mite premature. On the evidence of the three Kokkinos films I’ve seenâ€”Head On, Blessed and The Book of Revelation (not in SIFF but available at Scarecrow)â€”this onetime lawyer turned filmmaker is a long way off from joining the masterly company of fellow Aussie directors Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong.
Kokkinos’ strong suit lies in dramatizing the flesh-and-blood bondsâ€”sustaining or smotheringâ€”that tie parents and offspring, and in finding the dynamics of emotion in dance. Drawn to the power of color to code emotional states, she likes to saturate key scenes in hot shades of gold, red and blue. Notably, her command of storytelling falters; narratives feel overlong and aimless, adrift in Melbourne’s mean streets, as though the lady at the helm doesn’t quite know where she’s going or how to stop.
In Head On, her 1998 feature debut, homosexuality works as a metaphor for the unbreachable divide between old-fashioned Greek-Australian immigrants and their feckless kids. Pointlessly interspersing black-and-white archival footage of the older generation’s battles for assimilation, Kokkinos follows Ari, a handsome, halfway closeted 19-year-old, through a long dark night of the soul fueled by sex, drugs, dancing. We watch Ari ping-pong gracelessly between straight and gay worlds, flirting with rough trade, an old girlfriend as lost as he is, a handsome Aussie offering something besides another degrading hook-up.