One of the best quotes about film-making comes from D.W. Griffith, who, nearing his end told a reporter that the purpose of films was to show, “beauty—the beauty of moving wind in the trees, the little movement in a beautiful blowing on the blossoms in the trees.” Griffith was attempting to make a point about film’s great strength – its ability to place an audience in a moment of time. To make them feel like what they were watching was true, and as real as any other experiences in their life. Anyone who’s attempted to make even the simplest YouTube video would understand the immense challenges such a task poses.
Sophie Hyde, the co-writer and director, of 52 Tuesdays has a clear understanding of the possibilities of cinema, and how to make its artificial process feel real. Her debut feature tells the story of Billie, a girl in the final years of high school, and her attempts to deal with her mother’s gender re-assignment. That her mother, “James”, announces his new identity suddenly and also asks Billie to live with her father for a year comes as a whiplash like shock. James requests that Billie only visit him on Tuesdays until he has had time to come to terms with his new identity. Billie, much as I imagine any young person can battle with sudden changes in their life, struggles to understand her mother’s sudden rejection and draws closer to two older students at her school, Jasmine and Josh. Her response is made near inevitable by the fluctuating behaviour of her father, Harry, and young uncle, Tom. Tilda Cobham-Hervey performs Billie, providing her with the vulnerabilities and new-found confidences of a 16 year old girl with a startling magnetism. Tilda Cobham-Hervey’s talent almost runs away with the film, but is reined in by the stoicism of Del Herbert-Jane, who plays James. Beau Travis Williams’s performance of Tom also provides the film with a jagged humour that helps to keep the feeling of honesty.
Part of 52 Tuesday’s raw-ness comes from the documentary training of its makers. We are brought into the fictive world by the interviews and self-examination of Billie, whose own attempt to film the radical changes in her life and so order them, results in failure. The use of news footage from contemporary international politics as a transitional device nicely contrasts Billie’s own struggles. But how the film was shot, one day a week every week for a year, is what contributes to its power. The long-term dedication of the cast and crew is obvious in watching the film, and their passion lifts a sometimes-weak script into something rare and special. As an article in Filmmaker by Kaleem Aftab discussed, 52 Tuesday’s innovative approach to shooting is a part of a contemporary moment in filmmaking, a moment that includes Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Bob Connolly’s The Turning. The advantage of regularly returning to the same characters, a methodology closer to television than traditional cinema, greatly deepens our emotional engagement with them.
Charles Dickens wrote his great epics of childhood, greed, and identity in weekly instalments for years at a time. House of Cards, even if like most people in Australia you’ve downloaded and then binged the entire season in a single rainy weekend, has a similar format. The scale of such works helps to convince us of the central humanity of their fictive creations. The same goes for 52 Tuesday’s. Its release in Australia is still uncertain but its quality remains undiminished and hopefully there is enough of an audience to demand its distribution. One would imagine there are plenty of people who want to watch something true, raw and, most unusual of all, authentically cinematic.