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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday September 16, 2019 

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Having had her handbag snatched near Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, a hysterical and angry Tia (Olivia Pigeot) runs into Bobby (Teo Gebert), who has just run random breath test unit. The chance meeting leads to frantic casual sex and the start of a destructive relationship. Bobby lives in a car, having left his wife, and Tia tells him straight out that she’s married. When Tia runs into childhood friend Phaedra (Susan Prior), they renew their friendship but Phaedra’s vulnerable life, in the wake of her boyfriend’s heroin overdose, is shaken by Tia’s crash-and-burn lifestyle. Phaedra is dragged into this world of denial and denials, but it is her strength and natural compassion that gradually infect the other two as they confront the demons chasing them.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The all too real emotional landscape depicted in this film is based on the all too painful reality that prompted Paul Middleditch to propose a film that is unusually collaborative, even in filmmaking. He spent some months with the three leads exchanging intimate and real life experience information and developing a screenplay from it. The common element forming the demons that drive each character is death of a loved one, but this is only glimpsed through the film, until the unfolding of the story takes us into the private recesses of the characters. 

If Mike Leigh had not already used it, Secrets and Lies could well be a fitting title for the film (but I’m not comparing or suggesting similarities). The screenplay is credited as a team effort, and it is a compelling one, decorated by outstanding, searing performances that feed directly into our psyche. Middleditch handles the complex work admirably. In some respects, it’s as satisfying as (if very different to) Lantana, immersing us into a world of feelings and fears, love and death and pain. 

It’s not a depressing film, all the same, even entertaining at times, but it is (I’m glad to say) a challenging film. It risks confronting us yet it never does so arbitrarily. It is shot on locations that are clearly Sydney yet underused, and Steve Arnold’s work in creating visual textures, contrasts and washed tones aids the film in reaching us as a holistic affair. My only concern is that the sound design is a trifle harsh, and if that’s intentional I don’t think it was necessary. Compensation comes by way of Claire Jordan’s spare but effective score.

Review by Louise Keller:
An intense and powerful glimpse of three emotionally shattered lives at the crossroads, A Cold Summer sears to the very core of vulnerability. A very personal project for both director and actors, the film’s story comes from an ensemble scripting process based on real life. The emotions exposed and developed are as stark and unembellished as the credits. 

This is a deeply edgy film, where jagged emotions take us to the precipice of despair, as the response to devastating loss is explored in three different lives. The pizzicato strings of the wildly frenzied music score are emotions plucked harshly, while Steve Arnold’s striking cinematography makes the film visually eloquent. From jerky hand-held camera revolving 360 degrees at times to truly exquisite images of bodies in sexual acts, Arnold makes the camera a character – often irritatingly out of control, yet at other times in perfect harmony. 

Three stand-out and fearless performances from Teo Gebert, Olivia Pegeot and Susan Prior bring Bobby, Tia and Phaedra to life. Each of the three characters has an underlying urgency that makes them teeter on the edge. Bobby has uprooted his life (and his favourite camellia with it) and lives in his BMW, guaranteed of a good view, depending on where he parks. Gebert has a compelling screen presence making his Bobby an enigmatic character that drinks excessively to cover a multitude of emotional wounds. Tia is impenetrable as the tough-as-nails loud-mouth who spends her life fabricating impressive lies. 

Honing in a rare moment of truth at the beginning of the film, when Tia is looking in rubbish bins to find her stolen handbag, she asks Bobby: ‘Have you ever lost your bag with your life in it?’, to which Bobby replies ‘No, but I’ve lost my life.’ Phaedra by contrast wears her emotions on her shaky sleeve: she is constantly on the edge of despair. Just a tiny push (or a thoughtless verbal indiscretion) will push her over. Prior creates a sad persona who is willing to invest her emotions and trust, despite the fact that all the signals are against it. When Tia and Phaedra confide in each other and tell each other things ‘for their own good’, it is quite clear that the only good achieved is putting the other down – be it shattering hopes with a would-be suitor, or shattering dreams of an idolised mother. A Cold Summer is a film about damaged people. It is as truthful as emotions are fluid; the warmth of a relationship becomes cold from isolation and rejection.

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CAST: Teo Gebert, Olivia Pigeot, Susan Prior, Dan Wyllie, Marin Mimica, Paul Kelman, Janine Burchett, Ana Maria Belo, Bobby Gebert, Andrew Dickeson, Alex Comptom, Oscar Gruchy

PRODUCER: Paul Middleditch, Grace Yee

DIRECTOR: Paul Middleditch

SCRIPT: developed by Teo Gebert, Olivia Pigeot, Susan Prior, Paul Middleditch


EDITOR: Peter Whitmore

MUSIC: Claire Jordan


RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 26, 2004

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