After filming in the furthest reaches of the Australian Outback for her feature debut “Strangerland,” one would think that it would’ve been a relief for Kim Farrant to return to her home city of Melbourne to make her second “Angel of Mine,” but being more far more invested in the emotional wilderness her characters attempt to sort through rather than what obstacles the landscape may bring, there proved to be no difference where she set up her camera — although filming in large public spaces certainly brought its own share of challenges.
“Those days are always the harder ones where there’s the unpredictability of weather, safety, and the general public – for instance, the picnic with 200 extras and then on the ice skating rink, [where] we were all in jeopardy of breaking a leg – no one did because we’ve got great safety supervisors,” recalls Farrant, who had essentially 17 days to film in 30 locations with the other ten days unfolding in one locale. “That just adds to the tension, but every day was beautifully challenging in terms of the emotional depths – that’s the exciting sweet spot for me.”
In a way, Farrant has allowed herself to go deeper than just the boundaries of a single film will permit when exploring grief, following up the story of parents who fear their teenage children have gone missing in “Strangerland,” with the tale Lizzie (Noomi Rapace), a mother who is shaken to her core when she comes across a young girl named Lola while attending a birthday party for a friend of her son’s that she feels might’ve been the daughter she thought died just after childbirth seven years earlier. Although “Angel of Mine,” penned by David Regal and “Lion” screenwriter Luke Davies, takes the form of a thriller once Lizzie begins to befriend the young girl’s mother (Yvonne Strahovski) in an attempt to bear out her suspicions, Farrant is careful to never question Lizzie’s sanity as her obsession with Lola grows, but shows how her perspective has been shaped and warped by having such a feeling of emptiness that it creates an inverse form of tunnel vision to the neglect of others in her life including the son she still has joint custody of with her ex-husband (Luke Evans).
Following its premiere earlier this month at the Melbourne Film Festival, “Angel of Mine” is wasting no time making its way around the world, arriving stateside this week and Farrant spoke about how she collaborated with Rapace to create such an unvarnished portrayal of personal loss and its aftermath as well as figuring out cinematic ways to bring the emotions that are often buried to the surface.
What attracted you to this?
It was the very raw writing from Luke Davies and David Regal about a woman’s journey with grief that leads her into a place of obsession and how those untenable feelings of loss tend to rip us open to the ocean floor or our murky, subterraneanal feeling. We live in a society that has very little space for people who are in the grips of loss or suffering from the death of a loved one and most people want you to get over it and move on because they find it so uncomfortable, so this character gets to a point where she can’t mask those feelings anymore. She can’t hide how her longing breaks her open and is cutting her at the very edge of her soul, and I found that very exciting to portray – how that can bring up defense mechanisms like denial, not wanting to let go, not wanting to believe it to be so and from that kind of spurs this desperate mission for Lizzie, Noomi Rapace’s character. It can also be so beautiful because it’s in that kind of wake of loss that we realized how deeply we loved someone. That’s an exquisite place, even when you’ve got tears pouring out of you or your heart feels like it’s going to explode with suffering, and it was just such an opportunity to explore the shadows that come with grief.
In both this film and “Strangerland,” these characters teeter on the edge of madness following loss, but don’t tip over to the point that you can no longer identify with them. Is that a fine line to walk?
Yeah, it all starts in the script and I’d seen the Swedish and Danish films that Noomi had done before “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – “Daisy Diamond” and “The Monitor” and for any film buff out there, they are extraordinary – and I got to really see not only can she totally kick ass in a Hollywood blockbuster trilogy, but she can absolutely access the most excruciating and beautiful and exquisite depths of pain and rage and vulnerability. So I explained to her, “I’m like a container. Let me be the walls for you to unravel within.”
By rehearsals, we were constantly exploring that edge of Lizzie’s desire for this child who she believes is her own and now another woman’s daughter, and the feelings of insanity in thinking that could possibly be true, [wondering] is it your self-will that’s driving that? I think we all know that place whether you become so in love with someone that you can’t live without them or you can’t accept the separation or you can’t find yourself grieving the loss or you can’t seem to let go and it can feel a little crazy making. [Noomi] really embraced that and we really did a lot of processes to help her break down any defense mechanisms neurologically that would prevent her from unhinging and unraveling as the character and within the context of the shoot, and exploring the relationship dynamics with the other actors that were in family constellation as well as you know, working through some things with Yvonne Strahovski who plays Claire. She was incredibly brave to agree to that And I think it’s illustrated by her remarkable performance.
It actually adds to the tension that she’s inherently an outsider within this Australian community since she’s Scandinavian. Was the part always written that way?
We adapted the character to be Swedish because it’s a big thing to take on an Australian accent. Even the most skilled American actors whose English is their native language find the Australian accent impossible and it’s very, very, very rare that you’ll ever see it mastered, so rather than spend our preproduction/rehearsal time focusing on the accent, we just said, “Australia’s a very international place, we have people living here from all over the world, let’s just make the character Swedish, so we can really just focus on the character’s journey” and whilst we have many actors with Australian accents, we also have an English character and a Swedish character and a Welsh character in Luke Evans, so we wanted it to reach a bigger audience and not just be a colloquial Australian film, but an Australian film that could be any country so that markets all over the world could relate to the film.
There are lots of shots involving glass and mirrors – how did that become a motif?
It definitely was a motif for the fractured, splintered-off parts of self, so there’s the part that feels grief and loss and there’s the part that feels conviction and obsession. Then there’s the part that feels like, “Oh my God, I’m going crazy.” So we were looking at a main character who was struggling to integrate all these fractured parts within her and glass just seemed a really great way to reflect that inner world that was in chaos through her external environment. It’s obviously hard to shoot glass, but [Andrew Commis] the cinematographer on this was completely equipped to achieve that in such a way you never knew we were there.
There’s a great shot in that scene in the bathroom where she throws out her medication and we were very lucky that that mirror itself had a warping mechanism, so when you moved slightly left and right, it suddenly looks like her face is morphing and changing, but it’s actually the optical illusion of that particular mirror. We were constantly looking for things like that in the location scouting and the production design that could help add to the [feeling of] losing the sense of focus within self.
It’s a really interesting score as well that builds quite a bit through a low simmer that is eventually brought to a boil. What was it like to work on?
Our composer Gabe Noel was our secret weapon and he had a very, very short amount of time. He had five weeks and we were focused on how do we get inside of the head of Lizzie via the score – how do we honor her and hear the kind of fracture and the unraveling within her and use that to build the tension within the film. And the guy’s a genius. He was playing all sorts of instruments backwards, feeding back through feedback loops and doing all sorts of crazy and wonderful things. He’s from a very traditional string instrument background and he played most of the instruments on the film. He just blew my mind and was an absolute joy to work with, so doing the score was a delight.