February 10th 2014 04:07
Seen through the eyes of a young boy, Daniel Borgman’s first feature – inspired by Sonya Harnett’s novel Of a Boy - offers perceptive insights into the torment, sorrow and, occasionally, joy of growing up. Young New Zealander Adrian (Demos Murphy) is an outsider whose mother abandoned him early in life, leaving him with his grumpy, put-upon grandmother (Catherine Wilkin) and troubled uncle Rory (Matthew Sunderland), a painter who seems mostly withdrawn from reality. Adrian is not exactly popular at school, being constantly ridiculed and bullied. A new no.1 haircut – necessitated by an infection of lice – only adds to his woe as his appearance alone now provokes derisive backchat.
When three young children move into the next property, Adrian makes tentative advances, desperately in need of friendship and a connection. In some part of his mind, he associates the trio’s appearance with the much publicised disappearance of children from the Invercargill area. Around Adrian’s own age, Nicole (Angelina Cottrell), becomes his closest companion as he comes to understand that he’s not alone in harbouring painful, conflicted emotions associated with his mother’s decision to ditch him. Nicole and her younger siblings look after a mother who is gravely ill, creating similar bitter feelings of an impending abandonment. Borgman’s handling of both this grim subject material and his young actors is second to none. Murphy, in particular, is a revelation, carrying the film, with virtually every shot seen from Adrian’s perspective.
Despite its dark undercurrents, The Weight of Elephants (2013) is a sensitive, beautifully realised gem; concise, sensitive and insightful, it lingers truthfully in the way emotions and moments of self-discovery are often painfully refracted through Adrian’s senses. Small moments, shot simply but with allusive, poetic grace by Sophia Olsson, sustain what is a consistent tone throughout. There are numerous standout passages, though one is particular stays with me: a dreamy, majestically wrought scene in which the children, momentarily turning away from the pain of their abandonment issues, adorn a tree with fragments of crystal glassware. This wonderful scene proves to be a lovely metaphor for both the transparency of children’s motives and the purity of their desire for uncomplicated happiness - something that becomes increasingly difficult to believe in as the real world lurches ever closer.
The Weight of Elephants is now out on DVD through Transmission Films.