Directed by Anthony Hayes
When certain themes crop up time and time again in a nation’s cinema, should we look at this repetition of themes from a sociological point of view or should we dismiss them as simply cliches? In Australia we seem to be stuck time and time again with stories about outsiders visiting country towns or outer suburbs and discovering them to be vortexes of desperation and struggle. This person is either a complete outsider (like in, say Somersault) or commonly someone who has “escaped” the suburbs and returns to their hometown as an outsider. This would be Mullet or Anthony Hayes’ Ten Empty.
After walking out of the cinema after having seen Ten Empty, Kim told me he felt like he had seen the film a million times before and he is absolutely right. Ten Empty is made like a textbook of every single thing that is wrong with Australian cinema. It’s yet another humourless and condescending portrayal of Australian life in which the suburbs are joyless and derided for their lack of culture and the film continues to paint this picture in the most stupidly unbelievable ways possible. I’ll choose one example but there are plenty more: There’s a point early in the film where the main character, Elliot (Daniel Fredriksen), having returned to the suburbs to visit his family for his mother’s funeral shares a drink with his estranged father, Ross (Geoff Morell). Ross offers his son a beer. Elliot, being a cultured city slicker, declines with the explanation that he drinks “red”. Ross being a dimwitted suburbanite can’t get it into his thick head that “red” means red wine. Elliot tells him that tap water is fine for him. The screenwriter is making a symbolic point here obviously but it’s a pretty awful one. What kind of yuppie really believes that beer is a symbol of cultural degradation and that wine is a symbol of inner-city enlightenment? In Australia, yuppies drink beer. True, your average yuppie may prefer a more expensive beer but come the barbecue – your yuppie will be drinking Vic Bitters. This is because masculine beer drinking culture also exists in big cities. Ten Empty‘s flawed alcohol semiotics is indicative of the film’s flawed worldview. It’s melodramatically negative view of the suburbs that really only exists in Australian films.
Why do Australian filmmakers hate Australia so much? I’m not suggesting that Australian films become joy fests but can we not find a more honest way of depicting suburbia, one that has joy as well as struggle, love a well as conflict. Kath and Kim is a much more nuanced depiction of suburbia than this mess. It’s genuinely entertaining, humourous and a pointed satire on suburban consumer culture.
My point is that Ten Empty is supposed to be a realistic drama, but nothing in it is believable. For example, I couldn’t help but notice how white the cast was. Perhaps there is an Adelaidean out there who can enlighten me about this but I can’t see why there is not a single ethnic face in this film. In fact, the cast looks like every other Australian cast. One would think that Australia is populated purely by white football players.
Ten Empty seems to want to criticise the oppressiveness of suburbia but can’t break out of the cliches of every Australian film that has come before it. The only reason to see this film is to support the Australian film industry but if this reflects how the industry is going to continue, I’m not sure I want to support it.
See this film with:
- Mullet, David Caeser, 2001.
One of many horrible precursors to Ten Empty. For those who want to wallow in the most pretentious of Australian films.
- Muriel’s Wedding, P.J. Hogan, 1994.
This enduring classic proves that you can make a film that casts a critical eye on suburbia and entertains at the same time.