In the outback opal mining township of Coober Peedy, the Williamson family reluctantly share their modest cottage with Pobby and Dingan, the two imaginary best friends of their 9 year old daughter Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce). Neither her older brother Ashmol (Christian Byers), their mother Annie (Jacqueline McKenzie) and least of all her dad Rex (Vince Colosimo) have much patience for Kellyanne or her invisible friends, but Rex takes them to the mine one day for an 'outing' to humour his daughter. When he returns that night, having forgotten them, Kellyanne is distraught and persuades Rex to search for them, which is mistaken by their neighbour for 'ratting' an adjacent claim and lands Rex in court, not to mention the degrading fury of the entire community. Ill with worry, Kellyanne once more persuades her brother to go on a desperate search for Pobby and Dingan in the collapsed mine, which turns up unexpected results all round.
Review by Louise Keller:
A touching story about dreams - both imaginary and real, Opal Dream explores the multi-faceted nature of something precious. Peter Cattaneo directs this cinematic tale whose remote Coober Pedy setting is worlds away from Sheffield in his earlier award-winning film, The Full Monty. The heart of Australia's desert has been captured many times on film, but the chalky, arid landscape takes us into a world that feels fresh. In fact everything about this film is fresh as it takes us from whimsical to profound.
Not since Donnie Darko have imaginary friends been seemed so real. As the descriptions of Pobby with the wooden leg and Dingan whose opal glistens from her belly button become more real, so too does our understanding of their importance. The weight of the film lies in the hands of ten year old Christian Byers, through whose eyes the story is told. His matter-of-fact delivery, especially in the scenes with his onscreen sister Sapphire Boyce, rings true, his performance filled with subtlety and sensitivity. We understand the close bond with his sibling and when he descends into the mine shaft in the dead of night on an impossible task, we are right there with him. Boyce is remarkable also, if a little practised at times. Vince Colosimo and Jacqueline McKenzie offer solid support in roles that might have been better developed.
The images are incongruous as we meet a pretty little girl with blonde hair chatting happily with her imaginary friends over a plastic toy tea set. Not far away, her father is covered with dust, as he drills underground in search of opals. Her older brother snowboards on a chalky mound by the mine shaft, while her mother serves customers at the local store. The juxtaposition leaves haunting images. The solitary emptiness of the space goes beyond the vast setting. There is a genuine loneliness in all the characters. Based on Pobby and Dingan, a novella by Ben Rice, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cattaneo, there are a few flaws in the storyline, but the film's warm and affirmative themes and performances are rock solid.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Enticing consistently engaging and natural performances from 10 year old children making their on camera debut deserves an award in itself, and Peter Cattaneo does even more than that with this lively and surprisingly dramatic adaptation of Ben Rice's novel. Never talking down to his essentially young audience, Cattaneo handles the material as if it were every bit as serious and as adult friendly as his triumphant, The Full Monty. Which of course it is, even though the story stems from a child's belief in imaginary friends.
If Sapphire Boyce had been christened Opal she could not be more perfect for the role; so much so that in the first act she is irritatingly attached to her invisible friends, so much so that you want to strangle her. But this is an important set up for later developments, and her effectiveness as an actor is unquestionable.
As her brother, the unexpectedly named Ashmol, Christian Byers is a sensational discovery. Together, they easily handle scenes with their experienced and talented on screen parents, Vince Colosimo and Jacqueline McKenzie, who involve us in their world with unfussy but effective emotional threads. Strong support from vets like David Field as the local quack and Robert Menzies as the eccentric who takes on the role of defending lawyer when Rex is hauled in front of the visiting Magistrate.
Excellent production values and a economical but appropriate score add the finishing touches to this Australian/UK co-production, which has much broader - and deeper - appeal than the 'family' genre might imply.
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OPAL DREAM (PG)
CAST: Vince Colosimo, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christian Byers, Sapphire Boyce, Peter Callan, Robert Menzies, Adam Morgan, Rusty Potter, Denise Roberts
PRODUCER: Lizie Gower, Emile Sherman
DIRECTOR: Peter Cattaneo
SCRIPT: Peter Cattaneo, Phil Trail (novella by Ben Rice)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Humphreys
EDITOR: Jim Clark
MUSIC: Christian Henson, Dario Marianelli
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Elizabeth Mary Moore
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Tas: Sept 7; Vic: Sept 14; QLD, Sept 21; NSW, WA & SA: Sept 28, 2006