Sunday, August 9, 2015

#1,819. Celia (1989) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Ann Turner

Starring: Rebecca Smart, Nicholas Eadie, Victoria Longley

Tag line: "A tale of innocence corrupted"

Trivia: Director Ann Turner was inspired to write this film by an article in the paper about the Bolte government's rabbit muster in the 1950s

Set in the 1950’s and inspired (in part) by Australia’s rabbit infestation problem (an issue that has plagued the continent for years), director Ann Turner’s Celia was sold in America as a horror film, where it was released with the added title Child of Terror, While the movie does feature a chilling moment or two, Celia, in reality, is the story of an overly-imaginative, troubled young girl whose carefree attitude comes into direct conflict with the world around her.

It’s December, 1957, and Celia Carmichael (Rebecca Smart), whose beloved grandmother (Margaret Ricketts) recently passed away, is turning nine years old. She has asked her parents, Ray (Nicholas Eddie) and Pat (Mary-Anne Fahey), to get her a pet rabbit, but her father, much like the Australian government, believes that all rabbits are vermin (newsreel footage of hunters taking out hundreds of rabbits, with the full support of of local authorities, plays daily at the neighborhood cinema).

The disappointment young Celia feels when she instead receives a bike on the big day is tempered by the arrival of her new neighbors, the Tanners, with whom she makes an immediate connection. Along with befriending the three Tanner kids: Steve (Alexander Hutchinson), Karl (Adrian Mitchell), and Meryl (Callie Gray), Celia forms a bond with their mother, Alice (Victoria Longley). But when its eventually revealed that the Tanners are Communists, Ray orders Celia to stay away from them, going so far as to buy her a pet rabbit (which she names Mergatroid) in exchange for her promising never to play with the Tanner children again.

Still, despite giving her word, Celia continues to spend time at the Tanner household, much to the chagrin of both her father and his best friend “Uncle John” (William Zappa), the town’s chief constable. Adding to the drama, a government edict ordering that all pet rabbits be rounded up and placed in the local zoo has just been approved.

It's at this point that Celia decides to fight back, but how far is she willing to take her “war” against the system?

What few scares there are in Celia come courtesy of the Hobyahs, a fictional race of creatures that populate a story Celia’s teacher, Miss Greenway (Deborra-Lee Furness), frequently reads to the class. Celia is convinced the Hobyahs are all around her, and sees them lurking outside her bedroom window in the middle of the night. She even believes they had a hand in her grandmother’s death (in the book, the Hobyahs carry off an old woman before setting her house on fire).

We realize early on that Celia loved her grandmother (her most prized possession is a theater mask that once adorned a shelf in her grandmother's house), who was apparently as free a spirit as Alice Tanner (aside from playing games with the children, Alice allows Celia to stay over for as long as she likes, and the young lead quickly becomes a fixture at the Tanner Household). The memories of her grandmother, coupled with her relationship with the Tanners, make Celia very, very happy.

The same cannot be said for Celia's home life. Her father Ray, is a caring parent, but very strict, initially refusing to get Celia a pet rabbit. What’s more, when he learns that the Tanners belong to the Australian Peace Council, a communist organization, Ray tells Celia not to visit them. Ray is also something of a hypocrite. He's strongly attracted to Alice Turner and makes aggressive passes at her, even after he has discovered the family's communist ties. It’s also rumored that Celia’s dear old dad had a hand in getting Mr. Tanner (Martin Sharman) fired from his job (he allegedly tipped off his bosses about their employee’s political leanings).

Another source of frustration in Celia’s life is Uncle John and his family, notably John's daughter Stephanie (Amelia Frid), who teases Celia and gets the other kids to gang up on her. And because he’s the constable, Uncle John is the one who has to take Celia’s rabbit away when the decree passes. These events, and several more to follow, break down Celia’s youthful exuberance, leading to an eventual tragedy that will shake not only the Carmichael family, but the community as a whole.

Masterfully directed by first-timer Ann Turner, Celia is told almost entirely from its title character’s perspective, bringing us into Celia’s world of fantasy, hope, and heartbreak. Yet, despite its child-like perspective, this is not a film for kids. Some scenes, including those with the Hobyahs, are far too intense for younger viewers.

And while the movie does have a few things in common with 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird (exploring a child’s growing disillusionment with the world around her), it doesn’t end with a glimmer of hope. Celia is content to remain in the darkness, weaving a tale so disturbing it will stay with you for days.

1 comment:

PooBahSpiel said...

How did I miss this one?