Review by Jane Freebury
One of the ‘user comments’ posted on the web with this movie’s production details calls the plot device that brings an Aussie sheep farmer and Afghani illegal immigrant together a ‘MacGuffin’. Hardly. The circumstances that have thrown them together really do matter and are not simply engineered for the sake of creating a romantic couple. There’s a big political backstory pulsing behind the tranquillity of life on the farm, and a vivid and haunting score serves to remind us of that.
Unfinished Sky is set in a corner of rural south-east Queensland, which is a still and silent place, except for the drone of a fly and the caw of crows, music to the Australian ear. John Woldring (William McInnes) lives there, alone on his farm and slumped in a slough of despond. Out of nowhere, an Afghani woman, Tahmeena (Monic Hendrickx), a refugee from the Taliban, staggers onto his property, on the run from who knows what, and deeply traumatised. He’s not in the best shape himself, for reasons we discover later, and can offer little more comfort that clean sheets, a peaceful night’s sleep and a freshly opened can of spaghetti in tomato sauce. His blue heeler, Elvis, on the other hand, has lots of comfort to offer Tahmeena, and they quickly become firm friends.
Filmgoers who enjoy iconic images of the countryside will find lots to like here. As the cool blue palette develops a bit of warmth, the characters edge closer together over an unfinished jigsaw puzzle in the candlelight. And they share similar tastes in pop music, the universal language, that somehow found its way into the Afghani heartlands when Tahmeena was growing up.
The story of how they grow close could have been a touch predictable if that were all there was to it, how John and Tahmeena draw closer. But there are some surprises down the track, when writer/director Peter Duncan (who made Children of the Revolution back in the 1990s) gives his mature drama a bit of bite, like the sting of the barbed wire, and some flashes of homegrown humour along the way too.
Monic Hendrickx played a similar role in a Dutch film ten years ago. It is no coincidence. Unfinished Sky is mainly made with Australian finance, but is a collaboration with Netherlands, and a re-working of the original concept for The Polish Bride, where a woman on the run finds safe harbour with a lonely Dutch farmer.
But there’s nothing second-hand in this mature drama about two lonely people, each with a past that threatens to overwhelm them. With an intelligent script, sensitive performances, this finely crafted movie is a story for today.
In a capsule: A finely-crafted mature Aussie drama set in the an apparently peaceful corner of rural south-east Queensland, where two different lives collide when an Afghani illegal immigrant finds refuge with a lonely Aussie sheepfarmer.