Of an Age
Australian cinema gains a new queer classic with this tender Melbourne-set romance from 'You Won't Be Alone' writer/director Goran Stolevski.
March 23, 2023
You Won't Be Alone isn't just the name of Macedonian Australian writer/director Goran Stolevski's debut feature, which hit cinemas in 2022. It's also a phrase that applies now that his second film is here. Of an Age initially premiered in the same year as well, bowing in Melbourne International Film Festival's opening-night slot — and, while it tells of growing up queer in 90s Melbourne, falling in love for the first time, then sifting through the aftermath a decade later, it's a glorious companion piece to its predecessor. No one is chosen by a sorceress here. The place isn't Macedonia, the period isn't the 19th century and supernatural shapeshifting isn't part of the narrative. But even just a mere duo of movies into his helming career, Stolevski makes pictures that profoundly ruminate upon two of life's purest truths: that absolutely everything changes and, consequently, nothing completely lasts forever.
Neither You Won't Be Alone nor Of an Age fly solo in their moods of yearning, either, or in piecing themselves together from familiar elements that still feel fresh — more than that, that feel immediate and hauntingly immersive — in Stolevski's hands. Where his last flick played like a sibling to Robert Eggers' The Witch by way of The Tree of Life and A Hidden Life's Terrence Malick, his latest rich and poetic effort earns the same sensation with 2011's Weekend and 2017's Call Me By Your Name. This too is a tender love story, as both of those recent greats of LGBTQIA+ cinema are. A clock ticks inescapably, this time a single day rather than the respite at the end of the working week or a whole summer. And, in a keenly felt romance that swells and swirls with lingering emotions, two men find their lives eternally altered, while also facing the unshakeable fact that their bliss will be fleeting.
1999 is inching towards becoming Y2K when Of an Age begins, and 17-year-old Nikola aka Kol (Elias Anton, Australia Day) is only hours from taking to the floor at a Melbourne dance championship. That's how his day is meant to pan out, at least, and what he's preparing for when the film meets him practising his smooth ballroom moves in his suburban garage — conjuring up visions of John Travolta in a flick made famous two decades prior, in fact. Kol's ordinary morning fever breaks, however, thanks to friend and dance partner Ebony (Hattie Hook, Savage River) and her bender of an evening. She's awoken on the beach in Altona with no idea where she is, scrounging up change for the payphone call to say she thinks she'll miss the recital unless Kol can pick her up.
Stolevski hones in on Ebony early, not because this is primarily her story — it isn't — but to commence his coming-of-age and coming-out tale with compulsive urgency. Anything can happen in the whirlwind from adolescence to maturity when your entire adult future is ahead of you. Anything can occur when you've just finished high school, as Kol and Ebony have, and the days, months and years to come seem endless and brimming with possibility. Any day can be a shock and a surprise as well, as the jittery young woman conveys while scrambling to work out what's going on, where her belongings are, what happened last night and how she'll get home. With cinematographer Matthew Chuang (another You Won't Be Alone alum), and while editing himself, Stolevski's infuses the scene with a freneticism and nerviness that could've barrelled straight out of Good Time or Uncut Gems, adding the Safdies to the picture's influences.
That frenzied energy thrums when Kol dons his dance attire, rushes through the streets and looks like a Serbian Elvis all shook up as the Victorian capital wakes up. To attempt to make his big performance, he has to convince Ebony's older brother Adam (Thom Green, Eden) to play taxi — and he's still all aflutter with anxiety, and just the inertia of being so keyed up from endeavouring to sort things out, when he slides into the twentysomething's brown car. They remain in that race against time, although the reality of missing the contest slowly sinks in. Cue the aforementioned other battle with the clock, as what starts as a panicked drive between virtual strangers becomes a leisurely on-the-road chat between kindred spirits warming up. When Ebony hops in the backseat, Adam and Kol only have eyes for each other (plus mentions of music, books and movies traded as tentatively flirtatious currency, all while listening to the soundtrack to Wong Kar-wai's 1997 queer romance Happy Together).
An awakening is at the centre of Of an Age, which Stolevski brings to the screen with electrifying specificity and universality in tandem. He achieves an always-sought-after but never-assured feat, making Kol's discovery that he's attracted to Adam and their blossoming bond from there feel so sincere and lived in that it could've only happened for these two characters — as thoughtfully and compellingly performed by the charismatically matched Anton and Green, too — and yet ensuring that it also feels as if it has been ripped from everyone's formative experiences, or near enough. 90s teens of Australia, prepare for a time capsule in the movie's sounds, sights and slang, plus its costuming and vibe, across the feature's first section. This isn't quite a picture of two halves but, after Kol and Adam spend an intense 24 hours in each other's orbit (including at a 21st-birthday party that leads to the moment they've been building towards), it comes with a coda in 2010.
Embracing its debt to Weekend and Call Me By Your Name, Of an Age could've stayed in 1999 for its entire duration and still proven a gorgeous, heartfelt and affecting film. It cuts deeper and hits harder courtesy of its final chapter, though — and the dreamy visual sheen of its sequences in 1999, which have the intimacy and glow of fond recollections even when they're at their most fraught (with help from boxed-in Academy framing, and reminiscent of Chuang's work on Blue Bayou), is all the more powerful due to what comes next. When Kol and Adam cross paths again, both returning to Melbourne from abroad, much has shifted and transformed. That spark between them still burns bright, but confronting what it now means and how it too has evolved is another stop in Kol's coming-of-age journey. How moving and entrancing it is to tag along for the ride, and for a Melbourne-set, distinctively Aussie tour through following your heart, trying not to be alone, and understanding that perfect memories and existence-shaping delights quiver and sway just like everything else.
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