Blaze Review – Del Kathryn Barton’s Debut Feature Will Take Your Breath Away | Sydney Film Festival 2022
VVisualizing an emotional reaction such as trauma is extremely difficult: there are no rules, no codes and conventions, no set formula through which it can be achieved. Two-time Archibald-winning painter Del Kathryn Barton, who is well-trained in creating symbolic works full of psychedelic color and quirky detail, makes this a key feature of her confronting and daringly crafted debut feature, which follows a 12 year old. girl whose life is turned upside down after witnessing a rape and murder.
The event, which is edited in an unusually jarring style as if the very essence of the film struggles to cope with it, occurs early in the runtime, before Barton completely merges the mindset of the protagonist with the film’s form and content, and unveils the otherworldly creations that give it its distinctive visual flavor. Shortly after the gruesome MacGuffin, we see visions of an imaginary dragon on which Blaze (Julia Savage) draws strength, a surprisingly tactile creation made up of feathery parts, strange felts and shimmering bits, with enormous bulbous black eyes and a unicorn-shaped horn. .
There’s no Disneyfied footage showing the young girl atop the creature, whistling through the clouds while singing a jagged song. Co-written by Barton and Huna Amweero, the film’s central tension pits grim reality against fantastical creation, with the protagonist’s imagination serving as a coping mechanism, something made explicit in an audience scene depicting a dragon. miniature in the mouth of Blaze who spits fire on the author.
Blaze has a caring father, played by Simon Baker, who is desperate to help, but there are no easy answers. The situation is extremely trying, especially since Blaze was the only witness and his testimony is crucial. When she researches femicide online and consults a friend about confronting the killer, we realize she’s way in over her head; no creation of the mind is capable of remedying the terrors of the real world that surround it.
Given the subject matter, Barton has no obligation to be subtle, and yet his direction turns into a heaviness that shakes the audience’s intelligence. It is obvious, for example, that the story of Blaze represents many others; we don’t need a symbolic photo of her leading a group of women in a march down the street.
Generally, the film is more cryptic than that, steeped in visual flourishes contemplating loss and rebirth. Remembering specific examples is like isolating individual parts of a kaleidoscope. My mind sends back all sorts of peculiar visions: of a little girl emerging from the mouth of a mesh-encrusted corpse; a miniature bus hurtling down a tunnel of cherries in the form of a void; of Blaze lying in her bed, strapped to inflatable gray hands three times the size of her body. Some effects were created by stop-motion animation and many manipulate scale; undersized elements particularly striking in their suggestion of worlds within worlds.
A clue to unboxing all those peculiar pictures comes early, when Blaze discovers a cicada shell which she picks up and places on her sweater. This crisp, fragile thing is beautiful because it marks a transition, the insect having shed a glimpse of its youth during its progression into adulthood. This line of thinking fuels a Puff the Magic Dragon-esque message about growing up, and Blaze as Jackie Paper, contemplating leaving behind some extremely special things that have run their course.
The human element that ties the various tracks together is a hugely excellent performance from Savage, who brings so much to the table, portraying determination amid inner turmoil in a terrific way and projecting a range of uplifting emotions. Savage’s anchoring presence joins other young Australian actors who have recently excelled in hallucinogenic local films, such as Bethany Whitmore in Girl Asleep and Noah Wiseman in The Babadook.
A comparable production to Blaze, in its grim reality of youthful flightiness, is Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, set in an impoverished Louisiana community animated by the projections of a young girl’s imagination. Zeitlin’s approach to truth bases its great film on a strong and scabrous realism, while Barton’s fundamental reality is already surreal, minimizing the distance between the inner and outer worlds. The result is a hot, sticky, trippy fusion of wild style and achingly authentic emotion, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments.