Blessed is divided into two sections, following the events of one day in Melbourne from two perspectives, from that of children (not all of them minors) and their mothers. In the first part, “The Children”, Katrina (Sophie Lowe) and Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) skip school and spend the afternoon shoplifting. Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson) breaks into the house of an old lady (Monica Maughan) intending to rob her and gets more than he bargains for. Gay runaway Roo (Eamon Farren) is exploited by an older man. Orton (Reef Ireland) and his younger sister Stacey (Eva Lazzaro) run away from home. James (Wayne Blair), an Aboriginal insurance adjuster with an adoptive white mother, is not at home in either society. Fifty minutes in, we have “The Mothers”, and we retrack the day in the company of some characters we've only briefly met if at all: Rhonda (Frances O'Connor), pregnant and in danger of having her children – Orton and Stacey – taken into care, Bianca (Miranda Otto), who is addicted to gambling, Tanya (Deborra-Lee Furness) whose husband Peter (William McInnes) is unresponsive to her so she finds companionship with another man.
The film is based on a stage play, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? with a five-handed writing credit – Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius, Christos Tsiolkas, Irine Vela – with the first four credited with the screenplay. (Bovell and Tsiolkas have both had writing credits on Ana Kokkinos' earlier films. Tsiolkas is best known for his novel The Slap, adapted for Australian television in 2011.) Like Lantana (also written by Bovell, based on his play Speaking in Tongues), Blessed is an ensemble piece, the two-part structure enabling us to piece together the various plotlines and to see where they link to each other. The film’s stage origins are sometimes apparent – particularly in Rhonda’s lines which explain the title - but in the hands of Kokkinos, for the most part it’s quite cinematic.
Kokkinos’s previous films have often been confrontational, and Blessed is no exception. It’s a sometimes harrowing study of some quite dysfunctional lives. Some have found in it, as some find in Mike Leigh’s films say, a hint of class tourism, a wallowing in the misery of screwed-up lives not their own. I’m not in a position to comment on that aspect, but it’s clear that Kokkinos and her writers do have compassion for their characters however dysfunctional they may be. The acting is strong, from some talented younger actors (including Harrison Gilbertson, a year before his role in Beneath Hill 60 which I reviewed earlier today) and a distinguished group of middle-aged actresses, and one older one, as the mothers. Frances O’Connor is the standout, and gets one scene late in the film which is truly devastating. Blessed is certainly not the most cheerful of films, but it’s not easy to forget.
At the 2009 AFI Awards, Frances O'Connor won Best Actress. The film was nominated for Best Film and for its editing and adapted screenplay
Ana Kokkinos’s earlier films Only the Brave, Head On and The Book of Revelation all had British cinema releases. Apart from a showing at the Barbican’s Australian Film Festival, Blessed has not followed suit. That’s a pity as, with some minor reservations, it’s her best film to date.
Blessed is distributed by Icon on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Regions 2 and 4. It begins with an anti-piracy ad which cannot be skipped.
The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.78:1 (opened up slightly from the intended 1.85:1) and is anamorphically enhanced. Shot in 16mm, Geoff Burton's cinematography is intentionally quite grainy, giving the colours a raw, unslick vibrancy. I'm not in any doubt that this is intentional.
There are two soundtrack options, both in 5.1, DTS and Dolby Digital. The surrounds are used mostly for the music score and for ambience, though there is some use of directional sound. There’s not a great deal to choose from between the two soundtracks. The Dolby is slightly “warmer” and a tad louder, though both are mixed quite low – I had to turn the volume up quite high so that normally-pitched dialogue is easily audible, which is the proper test of a sound mix. Subtitles are available for the hard of hearing.
There are no extras at all, not even a trailer.