Joshua Brennan, Jeremy Blewitt, Melody Kiptoo
Daniel Corboy, George-Alex Nagle, Ben Tarwin (Co-writer)
"Mate" Shines at Nashville Film Fest
It's unsurprising that the 33-minute short film Mate is already an Oscar-qualified short courtesy of its Grand Prix win at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival earlier this year. In fact, the only surprise for me is that the film hasn't picked up a slew of other top prizes.
Screening in competition this week at Nashville Film Festival, Mate circles around a deadbeat dad, John (Joshua Brennan), who attempts to reunite with his now teenaged son, Jack (Jeremy Blewitt). However, the weekend goes awry when John's self-destructive tendencies rise to the surface and this already fragile father-son relationship downward spirals during the weekend that threatens to collapse into chaos and heartbreak.
Set in western Australia, Mate sets a potentially explosive toxic masculinity within the context of a contemporary landscape. While Mate is undeniably an Australian film, it's central themes are universal and it's nearly impossible to watch both John and Jack without recognizing them. Joshua Brennan is absolutely hypnotic as John, a man who seems to be constantly dancing on the fine lines between immaturity and genuine mental health concerns. Brennan makes it difficult to give up on John no matter how challenging his behavior becomes as there's always an ever so slight flicker burning that makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe, he'll catch on before it's too late.
As Jack, a young man both drawn to and repulsed by this strange new figure in his life, Jeremy Blewitt gives an astounding performance that aches with urgency and authority and vulnerability all in one. It's a marvelous performance that drew me in and refused to let me go.
Jai Pyne's original music immerses us in Mate's narrative peaks and valleys while lensing by Campbell Brown and Sam Phibbs is simultaneously stark yet exciting, intimate and in-your-face jarring. Kudos must be given to the film's entire production team.
While some films would avoid the darkness that unfolds here, Mate demands that we look at it. There's a suffocating sense of depression with John, whose entire life seems to be lived looking back at his glory days when his exciting life including working alongside bands like Silverchair. It would seem this rampant toxicity has festered for quite some time and now without any way to manage it there's a good chance it may consume him.
Jack, on the other hand, has grown up in a healthier household and watching Blewitt process all of these new experiences unfolding is a devastating view.
While I've always had a fondness for the Australian film scene, Mate is one of the better Australian-made shorts to cross my desk in quite some time. The film continues on its festival journey and seems to be getting primed for the upcoming awards season.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic