My Year Without Sex Review



Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Ross (Matt Day) are married, with a son Louis (Jonathan Segat) and a daughter Ruby (Portia Bradley). Then one day, Natalie suffers a brain aneurysm. Fortunately she recovers, but she feels she has been given a yellow card by life and is under medical advice to avoid strenuous activities in case of a recurrence. And that includes sex. So begins a year in the life of the family with crises large and small, comic and otherwise.

Sarah Watt began her filmmaking career in animation, and made a distinct impression with her first feature (live-action with brief animated inserts) Look Both Ways. It won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Film, one of five debut features directed by women to do so in the Noughties. Look Both Ways combined some pretty dark subject matter with warm, black-tinged character comedy – a combination with many pitfalls which Watt ably skirted round.

My Year Without Sex is clearly the work of the same writer-director. It’s episodic – divided into thirteen chapters, one for each month of the story – but funny and freshly observed. Importantly, it locates Natalie and Ross’s story in the midst of those of the people around them, in particular those of Louis and Ruby, and the stresses and strains and delights of family life. Cinematically it’s almost as inventive as its predecessor: it might not have the animated inserts of the earlier film, though the amusingly suggestive chapter heading montages aren’t far off. Graeme Wood’s camerawork adds considerably to the effect without being show-offy, as does Simon McCutcheon’s production design. Given that this is a film about a woman, written and directed by woman, it would be easy to make Ross a bad guy – but it’s to this film’s benefit that he isn’t, though he certainly has his emotionally clumsy and unreconstructed moments, and the chemistry of this married couple is obvious to see.

It seems a very long time ago that I reviewed Praise for this site, which featured a brilliant performance from Sacha Horler that won her an AFI Best Actress Award, in the same year when she won the Best Supporting Actress award for Soft Fruit. (She had a one-scene role written for her in Look Both Ways, as the protagonist’s pregnant friend, at a time when the actress was herself pregnant.) Maybe Hollywood didn't come knocking, or maybe it did and she declined, but the film most people outside Australia will have seen her in is still Babe: Pig in the City where she has a small role. She received an AFI Best Actress nomination for this role, one of two the film received (the other was for Watt for Best Original Screenplay), and it’s quite deserved. I’ll say it again, Ms Horler is one of the best actresses around, and not just in Australia, and deserves to be much better known than she is.

It’s a credit to Gary Day that he isn’t overshadowed, and he makes Ross a sympathetic – if sometimes confused – foil to Natalie. The two children are perfectly directed and thoroughly engaging without undue cuteness. William McInnes (who played a lead role in Look Both Ways and is the director's husband) has a memorable single-scene role in drag.

Given its subject matter, My Year Without Sex could have been a Bergman-style heavy drama. That it is a warm – if dark – and life-affirming comedy is a tribute to Sarah Watt’s distinctive talent and sensibility, and I look forward to her next feature.



The DVD


My Year Without Sex is released by Madman on a single dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 4 only.

The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. This is a brand new feature and this trasnfer is no doubt derived from a HD master (though the the original materials were 35mm). It has a warm, soft look, but I'm in no doubt that's intentional – though I haven't seen this film in a cinema.

The soundtrack is a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). This isn’t the most adventurous of sound mixes, with the surrounds used quite often for ambience and the music score. Subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing and are yellow in colour.

There are two commentaries on this disc. The first features Sarah Watt, Sacha Horler and Matt Day and is a funny chat, with all three clearly enjoying themselves, during which some useful information gets passed on. The second features Watt with associate producer Barbara Masel and is drier, with much discussion of themes. As so often with DVDs with multiple commentaries, it may have been better to edit them together into one.

“Life As It Happens” (25:05) is the making-of documentary. It's fairly standard stuff, featuring interviews with Sarah Watt, Sacha Horler, Matt Day, Graeme Wood and others, on-set footage and extracts from the film.

A set of deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with timecodes in the black bars, totalling 6:33 – though the first is actually an extended version of a scene in the final version of the film. Also on the disc are a stills-gallery (not self-navigating), a teaser trailer (1:07), the full trailer (2:02), and a PDF study guide. “Madman Propaganda” begins with an anti-piracy ad and comprises trailers for Last Ride, Balibo, Sunshine Cleaning and Love the Beast.

On the second page of extras, there are a couple of Easter eggs, which can be found by highlighting the white dot above the football and the white dot below it (level with Louis's waist). These are a couple of teaser trailers. In the first (1:01), William McInnes asks members of the public about My Year Without Sex: “Is that a horror film?” asks one woman. In the second (1:20), McInnes as himself interviews himself as Antoinette, the character he plays in the film.


Film
8 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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