Movie Review: ‘September’

Saw an advance screening of a truly remarkable new Australian movie on Saturday: September.

Set in the Western Australian wheatbelt of 1968 (but actually filmed in Yass, near Canberra), the movie focuses on the friendship between two adolescent boys on a farm: Ed, who is the white son of a farmer, and Paddy, whose Aboriginal family is virtually “in service” to Ed’s father. These were the days in which Aboriginal farm workers were given shelter and food in exchange for their labour, but no wages. Paddy’s family lives in a shack across the field from the farmhouse.

Needless to say, the boys’ relationship is unusual in the social context of Australia of the 60s. Their friendship, strong and uncomplicated, transcends the differences that divide them – differences such as Ed attending school while Paddy mends fences on the farm with his father, overseen by Ed’s father. But then things change.

A political decision drives a wedge between the families. The Government of the day legislates that Aboriginal workers are to be paid equal wages, but Ed’s father claims his stretched finances will not allow him to comply. Indeed, he may be telling the truth…directorial didacticism and judgement are mercifully absent here.

I hate reading narrative summaries, so that’s all I’ll give you. Let’s get to the guts of what makes this movie so special.

First, the script. I can’t recall a movie that uses the spaces between dialogue so brilliantly: this is a script of profound eloquence, and that eloquence is in the unspoken. Here, the director and actors must be commended for working the script so brilliantly, with such sensitivity and compassion for the characters. It is rare that script, direction and acting comes together like this to speak so powerfully. And even rarer that that voice should be so uniquely, beautifully Australian.

This film could not have been made anywhere else in the world. The sensibility of the characters, the desiccated sweeping landscape, the understatement that is the dominant note of the film and that communicates so much – these are the qualities, essentially Australian, that imprint themselves on you and linger long after you leave the theatre.

It is astonishing that a work at once subtle and immensely powerful, delivered with a sense of structure, timing and rhythm of such maturity, should be director Peter Carstairs’ first feature film.

I could go on about the complex brilliance of the imagery operating beneath the deceptively simple surface of the movie – the fence-mending on the farm that is simultaneously a metaphor of healing and division, the stark symbolism of the Aboriginal family shack and the farmhouse, the boys’ abandoned boxing ring in the centre of a wheatfield… I could go on about the wonderful acting performance of the Aboriginal lead, Clarence John Ryan (mark him down as a name of the future), and of all the actors, for that matter. I could wax lyrical about the admirable restraint shown by director and scriptwriter in avoiding the Hollywood inevitability of a first kiss in an almost-love-scene in a Biblical wheatfield setting between Ed and the new girl in school. But I won’t.

I will just urge you to see this moving and powerful film. It will stay with you for days.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

38 thoughts on “Movie Review: ‘September’”

  1. I disagree. I hate to say this, but yes, I disagree totally. Why? Why, when I haven’t even seen the film?

    BECAUSE….

    All Australian cinema is TOTAL WANK.

    Total unadulterated shite. Noni Hazelhurst got it EXACTLY right quite recently. Cinema & TV in this cuntry pulls. Not only “child abuse”, but ADULT TORTURE as well.

    Maybe I’m wrong with this particular movie, “September”. I dunno.

    But I’ll take the punt here.

    The last “OK” movie was Chopper… Before that? Dunno… Stone? Alvin Purple? Mad Max?

    This country really SUCKS nowadays, as far as cinema & TV & culture & society goes. I’ll give “September” a shot, and if I like it I’ll report back.

    Where do I find it, tho’?

    Is it like “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em”, an Australian movie that is totally socially-engineered out of existence? Just like the TV series “House Gang”?

    This country sucks. I hope nobody votes tomorrow. That would make a statement. Fuck off everyone.

  2. Fantastic review. I have now seen the film twice. Clarence is my nephew and bias aside I like you urge all to see it and Clarence at only 15 has a wonderful career ahead of him.

  3. Oh dear, Matt, you need to take a chill pill. Now to a serious comment. This is indeed a beautiful film. Do yourself a favour and go see it – this is an Australian film worth supporting. Open your mind before you walk in to the cinema, and be prepared to go with the flow. This is not a past-paced film. But it would not work as a fast-paced film. The genlte pacing is one of its many strengths. I immersed myself completely in telling of the story, and was rewarded by a simply wonderful cinema experience. Go see it!!

  4. Matt,

    Isn’t that view a little extreme? I agree that in recent years the pickins have been slim with good Aust films, but I can think of 3 I’d rate straight away (other than ‘September’): ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’, ‘Japanese Story’ and ‘Hotel Sorrento’. ‘Lantana’ was over-rated, but couldn’t be dismissed as “wank”. Bit too much fuss made over ‘Kenny’, but it was different and had its own charm. And there have been so many more I haven’t seen…some of them must have been alright?

    Agree about ‘Chopper’. Bana’s effort in that must rank amongst the best character acting performances ever, anywhere.

    Hi Craig

    You have every reason to be proud of Clarence. Terrific performance. I bumped into him in the foyer of the Luna after the advance screening I attended and briefly congratulated him on his performance and the movie. Shy, but very poised for a kid of his age. Women of all ages were clamouring to have their pics taken draped over him, and he handled all the attention with admirable dignity! As I wrote in the post, I am looking forward to following his progress.

    ybabe,

    As is evident from my post, I agree with everything you wrote. I didn’t even notice the slow pace – was too absorbed. But then, I LOVED ‘Remains of the Day’, and have been amazed to encounter so many folk evidently with very limited attention spans groaning about how bored they were during that little gem.

  5. Matt’s probably just some typical fuckwit “lebo” who’s parents are Lebanese but he has never been out of the country, yet refuses to call himself Australian. I may just be jumping to conclusions, but his attitude towards the country is very typical of the said “Lebanese” people. No self respecting Aussie would dare say this country sucks. How could you? Look at what we have compared to other countries like Cambodia and East Timor. Go live there for 4 years Matt, and then tell me Australia sucks.

    My ranting aside, I heard about this film on triple J and it captured my attention. I’m looking forward to seeing it soon

  6. Genocide, you are a typical Aussie moron. Go fuck yourself and your stupid cuntrey! “Aussie Pride” is for fucknuckles. This is one of the dumbest fucking cuntreys in the world – yeah pal, go celebrate your dumbness, you self-congratulating idiot. I just have to walk down the street or catch a fucking tram to witness the spectacle of mob banality-to-the-extreme.

    You are obviously happy, “Genocide”, with the state of Arsetralian television & cinema & music & radio et al. Good for you! The Herd accepts you! Congratulations, little boy! Daddy will be proud!

    Funny how someone calling himself “Genocide” is sticking up for Australia… You idiot. Fuck you, cunt! Your mumma was a fucking toe-rag junky slut!

  7. I really enjoyed the film ‘Clubland’ and i think there is something inimitable about Australian cinema.I am looking forward to seeing the film. I think the comments left by Genocide and Matt are unnecessary and immature.

  8. Little Miss Maturity, every country that has some sort of cinema has its own “inimitable” style. To call Australian cinema, specifically, “inimitable” is just silly.

    I’ll stand by my words about Australian cinema and Australian culture in general. It is all void & null. Yes there are a few feeble glimmers of hope, but they are quickly engulfed by the sheer stupendity of mundanity that infests this turd-continent.

    Hey Ally, wanna go take in a movie with me this weekend baby?

  9. Hi Ally, and thanks for your comments. Hope you enjoy September as I did – please post back your impressions after you’ve seen the film.

    Matt, while I understand and to an extent share your despair over the general mediocrity that pervades this place and its culture, I don’t think it’s much different elsewhere.

    Also, I think it’s a bit glib to dismiss out of hand Ally’s “inimitable” tag for Australian cinema.

    It may be true, as you contend, that every nationality inevitably stamps its own cultural brand on cinema (or any art it produces), but that doesn’t detract from the fascination of trying to get to the bottom of national identity and its expression, which is always elusive and hard to pin down unless you’re going to content yourself with cliches and truisms.

    One of the most impressive aspects of “September” for me, as outlined in the post, was the strength and purity of national identity that came through the movie.

    Plenty of movies hit upon the laconic nature of Awstraya and Awstrayans, but few tap into the sub-text of sparse dialogue and use other communication modes, like imagery, as adroitly as Carstairs does in this film. That’s unusual in my experience and quite a feat for a first-time director and a group of relatively unknown actors.

  10. Genocide typifies Australian moronicity:

    a) he can’t spell
    b) he laps up government-sanctioned “entertainment” (eg JJJ) quite happily
    c) his opinions are spoon-fed by mainstream media (eg inherent xenophobia)

    In a nutshell, he epitomizes everything I’ve come to hate about this country.

  11. crikey matt, what’s your story? and have you got around to seeing september yet, so you can legitimately have an opinion?

    i’m thinking of seeing it tonight. thanks for the review rolan.

  12. Hi x.

    If you do see the movie, would be good if you posted your impressions. I’ve been accused of going overboard with my review. Perhaps I did, but I found it deeply affecting and impressive for the reasons outlined, and simply wrote the film up as I experienced it. So, interested to read your impressions.

    Cheers

  13. Geeeeees Matt….. Why bag the movie so badly when you have not even seen it? So much for a fair go! Its people with an attitude like yours that make Austalia suck….. sounds like you have more issues than a tissue box… if you don’t like anything about this country then one has to ask ” Are you not free to leave”? I will be lining up to see the movie and will make judgement in due course.

  14. Lesa, FUCK YOU AND SUCK MY COCK, YOU FUCKING SLAG.

    I would LOVE to fuck off this shitty cunthole cuntrey. But how can I afford it? Where do I go?

    FUCK YOU, BITCH.

    You are quick to attack me, you slut, but you leave “Genocide” alone even tho’ he’s the one with the racist/nationalistic dumbfuck attitude.

    GO GET RAPED, YOU FUCKING TOE-RAG BITCH SLUT BIMBO FUCKEN’ TOE-RAG SLAG!!!!

    And that goes for everybody else in this shit cuntrey, and the entire planet too!!!

    Oh, and “Merry Christmas” everybody!

  15. Have to admit to being a bit shocked at the extremity of that reaction, Mattski! Lesa’s comments were fair enough, I reckon.

    This brings me to a dilemma. I’m not unlike you in holding Perth (in particular) in ever-building contempt for the way its gone – for the materialism, the yuppie values, the greed and all the shithouse changes this bloody boom has brought about that I’ve already documented and bemoaned at length in various posts. I ask myself often the same question Lesa asked you – why am I still here? It’s an answer that needs elaboration, and here is not the place…but every so often something comes up that forces me to contemplate it – like Lesa’s comment to you, and your reaction, which suggests that she pushed some buttons.

    I take your point about Genocide. Bigotry such as that he demonstrated is ugly and potentially a problem that impacts on the greater community. Thing is, you cloud the issue with the extreme misogynist content and personal attack of your responses! Racism and misogyny are both forms of bigotry, no?

    Which brings me to another dilemma. One of the best aspects of blogging, for me, is that it is a true “citzen” alternative to mainstream journalism, and as such, not subject to many of the constraints that shackle the mainstream media. I determined from the inception of my blog that I would not be imposing censorship of any kind on readers’ Comments.

    But I find myself in some conflict here. I don’t want to alienate people like Lesa and Ally, first-time Commenters whose responses were reasonable and rational in my view. Many, perhaps including them, are likely to be grossly offended by your personal attacks and your choice of language, Matt. Maybe so offended as to avoid further insult by refraining to comment in future, or by giving the whole blog the big miss. Is that an issue for me? I suppose it is, because I am vain enough to want to keep and build my readership – though not at any cost. At what cost, then? That loathed word – compromise – insinuates itself at this point, even if I choose to look away.

    My dilemma is, do I delete the most offensive parts of your comments, such as the “get raped” remark, and leave the rest in, or is this already too much of a compromise that inevitably pushes this blog in the direction of mainstream media values? Again, not an easy question to answer, and until I’ve thought it out, not a decision I feel ready to make.

    At the end of it all, we get to a place I always find confusing and somehow frustrating and disappointing – the inevitable and inexorable confrontation between idealism and pragmatism. These two will never sit in harmony, of course, because their essential natures work against each other.

    Lots to think about.

  16. Matt, you make me tense. You’re a wimp. You’re every reason I’m glad we may be evolving out of the Howard years now that he and his right-wing buddies are sucking arse on the golf links. Genocide, you’re no better. You dickhead. In fact, I think you may be worse. Both of you – get out of these chat rooms and leave us to our blissful cinematic peace. As Napoleon would say to Uncle Rico: “Idiot!”

    On to the film: I just came out of it. Stunning. Clarence – extraordinary. I fear though however, September will be another fine flick that slips under the radar of any mainstream attention – and for that I am sad. It’s a cracking movie. Beautifully paced. Superbly acted (particularly given the dialogue component of the screenplay would have been less than 20 pages). It seemed to me to be a short film padded out to a respectable feature length (90 mins), and with John Polson/Tropfest on board I wonder if anyone can tell me if this is the case?

    Anyway, terrific. Congrats to all involved.

    Cheers, AJ.

  17. Glad to hear someone else shares my view of the movie, AJ. Actually, I’ve noticed a lot do – and a lot don’t. Reactions seem to swing from extremes: ie, between the sorts of reactions you and I had, to complaints that the pace is too slow, nothing happens, etc.

    In one sense, you seem to be agreeing with the charges from some that the movie is padded out, which to me suggests it lacks the substance to sustain itself over 90 minutes.

    I must say, I didn’t find this at all. In fact, I thought the pacing of the movie was extraordinarily adept – just about perfect.

    Anyway, good to get some feedback from someone else who has seen it.

  18. Well Matt, that was the reaction I was expecting from you and nothing less. I’m not offended at all as i know your just venting your frustration at something on a deeper level. Sounds like you need a big HUG. I really hope you have a nice christmas and may the new year bring you wonderful things!! 🙂 As regards to the movie…. i quite enjoyed it !! Parts of the movie were filmed in my home town so i found it a bit of a hoot.

  19. Wow! Hi peter carstairs here. The director of the film. Am sitting in adelaide airport and have been killing time looking at what the film is up to. This blog has totally cracked me up! Rolan, aj etc, so good to read your comments. And your review, of course. Really great. Matt.. You sure sound like a fun guy. Did you see the film yet? Honestly, I can’t wait for your thoughts! I note I’m about 6 months late with a response.ps the film did comparatively well in perth. Good old boomtown.

  20. Hi Peter. Thanks for dropping by.

    Good to hear Perthites took to September – a show of taste not so common in these parts.

    It’s been 6 months since I last looked at this thread – only prompted to do so by your reviving it with your comment. Pretty funny in retrospect.

    Will be watching your directorial progress with interest. As you know, VERY impressed so far. I posted a review on the New York Times site, lauding you for what I perceive as an artistic maturity rare in a director in his debut feature movie. Forgot to check back to see if they published it.

    Anyway, all the best. I’d be very happy to review any future movies you direct – if you remember, please alert me when the next one’s due for release.

    Cheers
    Rolan

  21. Fucking hell matt… calmed down yet?
    were you born here?
    just wondering

    as for september i thought it was ok but i only watched it cos we had to in Australian Studies – why do we have to do Australian Studies?! no other country does it i mean you would find it hilarious if they did ‘german studies’ or ‘british studies’ what would you say i wonder? pommy ******* are up themselves?!

  22. Amazing movie, the stages of real friendship are shown throughout this film, despite race, reigion or social hirachy, it shows how real friendship can overcome all. this movie brings up so many issues that were present in pre modern society, but also issues that still face australian society even in todays post modern era. This movie speaks great volumn but without words. the young actors capture the period well

    amazng elloquent film

  23. The New Australian Movie ‘September’ is a delight.
    A film that delivers a true Australian way of life in a time that reflects hardship and adversity, but courage to rise above circumstances. great movie. great acting.
    A fresh piece of Australian cinema.
    Live on Australian Tales of Culture.
    bravo.

  24. Just out of interest, was September a mainstream movie? or was it fairly non-mainstream?
    Because i need to do a non-mainstream movie for an assignment and september looks good 🙂

  25. Hi A.

    It depends how you define “mainstream”, I guess. For me, mainstream implies big production, formulaic, Hollywood style movies targeted at a huge audience with the aim of making a lot of moolah.

    September is certainly not even close to this. By my definition, it is not mainstream.

    I feel confident that you could choose September as the subject of your assignment and be satisfying the non-mainstream movie criterion.

    Good luck with it! Check back and tell us how you went.

    Cheers!

  26. A,

    I attended an advance screening in November 2007, so I guess it was released nationally shortly after that.

    Try googling for ‘September + Peter Carstairs’, or ‘September Australian movie’, or ‘September + Australian movie + reviews’ – you should pick up plenty of info that way.

  27. A. The shooting for the movie September was nov – dec 2006 my husband was a unit assistant/set builder on the set and I got to drive some of the stars home when the shoot was over all very exciting I thought.

  28. Its hilarious how Matt has a dig at Australians for not being able to spell, when more that twice he spells country as “cuntrey”. How about you embrace the wonderful country you live in or as other people have said, bugger off because you wont find many other places better than Australia!

  29. Erm, Proud Australian, did it not occur to you that Matt’s misspelling of country as “cuntrey” was a deliberate malapropism?

  30. I watched this today. I thought it was a touching film, but its attempt to capture the zeitgeist went a little awry by the detail lapses.
    Farmers did not wear tractor hats in 1968; few were bearded; the hairstyles were all wrong, except for Paddy’s; everyone was too good-looking.
    Ed’s cowardice is not resolved and Ed’s future is unclear. That said, 1968 was part of an era when young people with any talent left the land.
    Paddy’s future is clear. In 10 years he will have lost a few of his great teeth and will probably have problems with diet, booze and women, if he managed to avoid being conscripted for Vietnam.
    In this depiction of the 60s zeitgeist, the film is right on.

  31. Interesting and – I am sure – astute comments, Ron. You are obviously well acquainted with the social milieu of the film circa its time setting. Appreciate your contribution. Well-informed, thoughtful comments like yours are in short supply! I’d welcome your future participation as a commenter on movie reviews on this site.

    Cheers
    rolanstein

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