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Marie Craven
Solrun Hoaas
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Melbourne independent filmmakers

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Moira Joseph

Mark La Rosa


The Captives

Follow the Leader   by Jake Wilson

Less prolific than Bill Mousoulis, less recognisably avant-garde than Ben Speth, Mark La Rosa ranks among the forgotten men of Melbourne independent filmmaking, despite or due to the stringent eccentricity he's maintained over twenty-odd years. Small wonder that his most recent mini-feature, The Captives (2004), is premised on the spectacle of art minus the audience - or, more broadly, life as an endless series of rehearsals.

Like earlier La Rosa works, The Captives is rife with conspiratorial intrigue, enacted in poker face by an ensemble of dim-bulb public-servant types - in this case, a student theatre troupe engaged in interminable run-throughs of Aeschylus' The Persians.

Art for art's sake is fine in theory, but the absence of a scheduled date for opening night eventually gives rise to discontent among the cast members, notably the sulkily cherubic Carl (Taylor McVean). "Suffering is part of the deal," announces Vincent (Anthony Marks), the collective's tight-lipped demiurge. "I made that clear from the start."

Moving among his followers and making tiny adjustments to their frozen postures, Vincent is a literally hands-on director. Something similar might be said of La Rosa, who treats his actors as "models" in the fashion of Robert Bresson, selected apparently for physiognomy and vocal timbre rather than talent.

One step removed from theatre of the absurd, the essence of La Rosa's cinema is a kind of epic mundanity. Richard Tuohy's elegant black and white videography fastidiously expunges background life from each scene; the university courtyards and suburban railway stations might as well be portions of a vast amphitheatre or locations on the far side of the moon.

Despite complaints, threats and pleas, nothing really happens till the stunning final scenes of The Captives - when, again, nothing happens, but in a different sense. La Rosa's usual abrupt endings resemble acts of God, arbitrarily sealing off a pocket universe; here, a similar gesture has more definite implications, retrospectively clarifying the film's allegory by revealing what stakes the characters have been playing for all along.

With its singular vision, The Captives is among the strongest Australian films of recent years, but viewing opportunities have been scarce since its premiere at last year's Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Also on the bill of tonight's screening at the Erwin Rado Theatre are two shorts by Jason Turley, Dirty Work (2003), and Wooden Heart (2004).

Still in his twenties, Turley so far looks like a more straightforwardly naturalistic filmmaker than La Rosa, but displays a comparable homely rigour. Despite some stiffness of exposition the observation of blokey manners is dead-on, particularly in Dirty Work, where a sullen teenager (Adam Scott) is forced into mateship with his older, overbearing neighbour (Chris Bidlo).

Wooden Heart depicts a comparably uneasy brief encounter between a sex worker (Meredyth Tasmyn) and an IT sales representative (David Tulk). The pay-off here is less satisfactory but the theme of blocked communication remains constant: like many earlier anti-heroes of Melbourne cinema, the protagonist never gets far beyond wandering the streets of the city, gazing at a world that shuts him out.

Jake Wilson, June 2006.
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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis