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Australia 1997
Directed by
Ana Kokkinos
104 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

Head On

Ari (Alex Dimitriades), the son of two Greek immigrants, is an alienated teenager who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He spends his time seeking out cheap thrills, and, over the course of one day, he dives into a bottomless pit of hedonism. He sleeps with a few men he meets, he sleeps with his friend Betty (Elena Mandalis), he takes drugs, he sells drugs and he rages against society. Ari seems numb to life until he and his best friend (Paul Capsis) have a violent run-in with the cops.

Kokkinos’ follow-up to her 1994 debut film, Only The Brave, is a high-energy, visceral portrayal of a young man who throws himself, as the title suggests, head on into life with little regard for danger or consequence. Working from Christos Tsialkos’ novel, "Loaded", Kokkinos is again working with Only The Brave co-writer Mira Robertson and playwright-turned-screenwriter, Andrew Bovell. Their screenplay presents us with a sharp portrait of a confused young man torn between who he is expected to be at home and who he knows he can be on the street. Neither is his true self and that’s the appeal of the story.

The depiction of this one night in Ari’s life is both compelling and overwhelming largely due to Jaems Grant’s frenetic camerawork and Jill Bilcock’s fast-paced editing (she won the AFI Editing Award for this film). We are sucked into Ari’s world of contradictions and dragged through his seamy encounters with a variety of characters that make up the episodes of this big night on the town. The supporting cast are all strong, especially Capsis, and the colour and light of the night-time locations is dazzling.

But Head On is Dimitriades’ film and he’s outstanding, inhabiting the role of Ari with the same frightening, unflinching commitment and authenticity as we saw in Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Hendo in Geoffrey Wright’s Romper Stomper (1992) (although I fear that in a meeting between Ari and Hendo, the former would come off seriously second best). It’s hard to say this is an enjoyable film. It’s often difficult to watch and suffers at times from its style eclipsing its substance. But it’s not a film to be ignored and its effect on you may linger. After watching it you are quite likely to need both a shower and a good lie down.




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