Starring: Andrew Rakowski, David Easteal, Cheri LeCornu, Inga Rakowski
Runtime: 179 mins. Reviewed in Jul 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
A documentary. The action within the car driving home as the audience watches and listens to Andrew and his passenger, David.
An enigmatic title, especially for a three-hour documentary that takes place in a car, mainly in the drive home from work at the end of the day. The Plains has won many awards – for its filming techniques, the camera inside the car, passenger seat view, for its themes in conversations between the driver and his co-worker getting a lift home, the phone calls made, the radio programs in the background.
In fact, in driving home and talking, you can cover a great number of topics, relationships, family, parents, work, going back to the past, issues in the present, day-to-day humanity and the ever-possibilities of going deeper. This film is all of that.
However, this reviewer is the wrong person to discuss The Plains. Andrew, the driver, who says he loves driving and prefers a manual to automatic, working in legal aid, phoning his mother and Aged Care, his wife of decades, as the contacts, is an older white male. As is this reviewer. But identifying with Andrew is much closer. This is a Melbourne film where this reviewer has lived for more than 50 years, in the eastern suburbs where Andrew works, driving along Blackburn Road and onto the Monash Freeway. It is very familiar. And, while Andrew drives and the audience is in the backseat, this reviewer was remembering his own driving along these roads, noting Andrew driving past the Burke Road exit, cars going up the off-ramp, it is where this reviewer would go. So, noticing everything, driving this route so many times – and we are told that the cast did the trip monthly over a year for the film. (Each time we drive along the road, we do get a little further, even, at one time, passing the CBD, but remain mainly in the eastern suburbs.)
But, in the backseat, a passenger can indulge in some backseat driving, observing everything through the windscreen, listening attentively or letting the mind wander off, even dozing.
And the thought came that audiences not familiar with Melbourne will be more attentive to Andrew and David, his passenger, the conversations, the phone calls, rather than be trapped in one’s own familiar experiences and memories. What if this review were watching this action taking place in an unknown city, Newcastle or Perth?
A recommendation for before or, better, after seeing The Plains would be to go to the film’s website, and read the informative article by the director who we discover is Andrew’s frequent passenger. It should be said that Andrew has a drone and enjoys photographing plains and scenery, so we do get some reprieve from the backseat, watching different locations and a final drone close-up of Andrew and Cheri, his wife.
We do get to know Andrew well, a great deal about his stern German father, mother who has dementia and her story, his sister, his wife and her work, his in-laws, and glimpses of photos and videos on his tablet. We learn something of David and he tells us that each month he and Andrew prepared what could be discussed in each sequence, Andrew drawing on his memories and his great talent for improvisation for his talk, and his phone calls, perfectly natural.
Quite an experience, driving, listening and reflecting.
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