Director Shannon Murphy (right) – seen with Eliza Scanlen and Ben Mendelsohn said Australia was "an example to the world on equality" and was sick of being asked "questions about the struggles of being a female filmmaker". — AFP Photo
VENICE — A heartbreaking film by a debut Australian woman director became one of the favourites Thursday to pick up the top prize at the Venice film festival.
Babyteeth, a tragically curtailed coming of age story that didn't leave a dry eye in the house, won its all-female production team led by Shannon Murphy the kind of reviews directors would give their molars for.
Variety called the quirky domestic drama "wickedly perverse and intensely moving... a bracing blast of air" whose power seemed to increase the more it pulled back from obvious sentimentality.
It's lead, 20-year-old Eliza Scanlen – who is soon to star in Greta Gerwig's Little Women after a stand-out turn in HBO's Sharp Objects – picked up glowing reviews for her portrayal of a gifted only child in a mildly dysfunctional family trying to negotiate both cancer and first love.
At a highly emotional press conference in Venice, Marvel star Ben Mendelsohn – who plays her psychiatrist father – teared up as critics effused over the movie's final act.
"This film is such a beautiful rendering of the finest virtues of Australia," he told reporters.
"You can be a total mess there and be embraced and accepted – hence my longevity," said the actor, who first came to notice on the soap Home and Away.
‘It makes me want to cry’
"It's a very life-affirming story about a group of damaged messy people.
"It makes me want to cry just talking about this film," Mendelsohn added.
"I really love it."
Scanlen said the teenage daughter was the "adult in the family" and the film "pays respect to young people and their intelligence. We don't give them enough credit," she added.
With its tragi-comic depiction of suburban prescription drug abuse, Murphy said "one of the themes of the film is self-medication".
She said she tried to be as restrained as possible with Rita Kalnejais' script which was drawn from her earlier play.
The playwright said its bitter-sweet tone came from the experience of "one of my friends who died in her early twenties" but who lived with a great intensity before she passed.
With Venice embroiled in a row over having only two women directors in competition, and its controversial inclusion of convicted rapist Roman Polanski, Murphy said she was sick of being asked "questions about the struggles of being a female filmmaker".
"I feel it takes away from the artistry of what we are trying to do, and continues the mythology of the great male director."
She insisted that Australia was an example to the world on equality because of a government scheme called "Gender Matters", "with incentives for a 50/50 split in all leadership roles. That shift is already happening in Australia." — AFP