Summer Coda

Review by Jane Freebury

There’s a lot happening just below the surface in this romantic drama set in the orange groves of Sunraysia. Fruit is ripening ready for a-picking, and feelings are a-stirring as two people hover near to each other wondering whether it might be safe to make a move. Timing is all, but will they ever find the right moment?

They met on the road when Mike (Alex Dimitriades) happened to be driving past in his Ford pick-up, crates of his oranges in the tray, and Heidi (Rachael Taylor) was hitching to Mildura, on her way to her father’s funeral. He makes a small joke about the violin case she’s carrying, but he knows it holds the instrument he saw when she was busking at a roadside café further back. They enjoy a pub meal and a game of pool together, until the boozy locals turn nasty—the only scenes where the acting lets the team down.

After the funeral, Heidi ends up on Mike’s farm and joins in the orange harvest until she is due to return home to the US where she has lived with her mother since a child. The scenes with the jolly band of fruit pickers are the heart of the film, with lovely performances all round. Days spent working from dawn end when it’s too hot to keep going with a plunge in the river.

It’s within this freewheeling atmosphere that Heidi and Mike begin to relax, little by little. Each of them carries a big hurt that makes it hard for them to connect easily, and when they have so little time to get to know each other – Heidi’s plane is ‘on Thursday’ – it looks like they will never get together.

As the only daughter of her father’s first marriage, Heidi’s story has a particular resonance with our times. What happens to the feelings of children whose parents remarry after divorce and begin new families? The film explores the issue with touching sensitivity.

In fact, there are many things writer/director Richard Gray has handled well in his first film. He has a deft touch, focussing on the performances that accompany the economical dialogue, in a way that seems appropriate for laid-back, laconic style on the land. And rarely misses a beat, except for a few longueurs towards the end.

How fitting that a film set in such a topical location should open this week. Were they shooting now, the water might be flowing over those shoals and the signs of drought looking just a little less dire.

Another good thing was seeing Dimitriades give his best performance in years. Yes, I liked this a lot.

In a capsule: A simply told and very moving romantic drama, with strong central performances, set in the orange orchards around Mildura. As a story about slow love, it really hits the right notes, and it is great to see a strong return to form by Alex Dimitriades.

4 stars

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