The Australian film world has a striking new talent. Scooping up a best director gong at the Sundance Film Festival in January and winning the prestigious Crystal Bear in Berlin the following month, Adelaide's Sophie Hyde has with her debut feature, 52 Tuesdays, produced a powerful and progressive piece of cinema that defies formal, social and narrative expectations. With memorable characters and exceptional performances helping to shore up an intriguing structural gimmick, it’s a bold and original coming-of-age drama that discerning local audiences should hurry to the cinema to see.
Newcomer Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Billie, a 16-year-old high-school girl struggling to find her footing after her lesbian mother Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) announces her intention to become a man. The transition, which involves a regimen of testosterone along with surgery, will take a year, during which time Jane — now going by James — requests that Billie go and live with her father (Beau Travis Williams). Billie agrees, on the condition that she can still visit every Tuesday after school.
If nothing else, 52 Tuesdays is noteworthy for its approach. Fully committed to her year-in-the-life premise, Hyde shot the film in chronological order, one scene every Tuesday, over the course of an entire year. The result, captured on consciously uncinematic digital video, has a particular kind of lived-in realism; the actors were given a new piece of the script every week, allowing for performances that feel both spontaneous and authentic.
Through a long and sometimes arduous process, Hyde and her writing partner, Matthew Cormack, handle James’ transition frankly and without judgement. Herbert-Jane, an actor who identifies as gender non-conforming, is excellent in the role, conveying each and every moment of excitement, frustration and doubt. Interviews with other trans individuals, captured by James on a trip to San Francisco, further contextualise his experience for his daughter, who in turn serves as a kind of surrogate for the audience.
The year sees big changes for Billie as well, particularly as her friendship with a pair of students in the year above her (Sam Althuizen and Imogen Archer) evolves into sexual experimentation. A soulful screen presence, there’s little doubt that Cobham-Hervey, like Hyde, has a big future ahead of her. As Billie, she gets us on side with a potentially unlikeable character, whose own adolescent drama seems to dwarf everything happening around her.
Honest, insightful and bravely against the grain, 52 Tuesdays is a magnificent debut for cast and filmmaker alike. Expect big things going forward.