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Australia 2013
Directed by
Gregory Pakis
90 minutes
Rated TBA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Joe Manifesto

Synopsis: Approaching his mid-thirties and contemplating a life in suburbia with his girlfriend who is keen to settle down, office drone, Joe (Gregory Pakis) is quietly freaking out.  When the clearly unconventional Vee (Chloe Gardner) turns up for a job interview he sets in motion a series of events that change his life.

Low-to-no budget film-making is, to say the least a hard road. Getting a first feature up is often so exhausting that many tyro film-makers who often spend years on making a film that never gets seen by more than family and friends lose heart.  Not Gregory Pakis. Ten years after his impressive debut with The Garth Method he’s back with another multi-tasked project that demonstrates not just tenacity but well-honed story-telling and film-making skills (recognition should also be given to the tasty score by Hugh Crosthwaite and Nicholas Buc).

Although The Joe Manifesto lacks the gloss of its bigger budget rivals, pound for pound it is their equal. At its heart is a well-turned script by Pakis that mixes comedy and drama as Joe addresses what the existentialists labeled “bad faith” – an expedient existence lived within the conventions of social “normality”. The opening section of the film which sets up Joe’s unhappy situation is deliciously funny with Macys-Marzo spot-on as the attentive girlfriend who with her mother (Francesca Waters) is unintentionally tightening the noose that he feels is around his neck.

Once Vee is introduced the film feels a little too programmatic, with that character seeming to be no more than a convenient device to articulate the principles that Joe duly follows in order to break out of his confines. Some nuance here in developing her character would have helped to make this a more rounded film.

Still, this is Joe’s story and in this respect Pakis’s performance really grounds the film, carrying it handsomely over any rough patches. No doubt there is a good deal of autobiography here and it helps that he knows the character so well but the beauty is that he never strains for effect. Quite the reverse, endowing proceedings with a blackly comedic tone, his Joe is resignedly detached, almost affectless, as he implements Vee’s manual for a life less ordinary and one-by-one loosens the moorings to the familiar everyday.  

All this leads into some quite dark territory and at times one can’t help but recall Mike Leigh's masterpiece, Naked.  Whereas Leigh left Johnny limping down the road to what one felt would be a sad end Pakis allows Joe some measure of redemption.  Whether this was the best decision in terms of dramatic punch is a moot point but Pakis’s film is more allegorical than realistic and under such circumstances hope is justified (and insofar as it is autobiographical, a consolation). Mercifully, though, Joe doesn’t get the girl.

Having contributed a solid script and a winning central performance, to have also directed this film completes an impressive trifecta of achievements for Mr Pakis. On his track record to date he is a horse worth betting on.




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