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"Familiar Funny Farm: Soft Fruit"
Soft Fruit 1999, directed by Christina Andreef; reviewed by Simon-Astley Scholfield, 14 Feb. 2000
The family comes from near and far to Vic and Patsy's modest Port Kembla house to gather around Patsy (Jeanie Drynan), who has cancer and maybe three weeks to live. There are three daughters and a son who haven't all been together for nearly a decade. Full-time home-maker, Josie (Geneviéve Lemon), has left her busy businessman husband back in the United States and brought their two kids to meet Grandma before she passes away. Single mum, Nadia (Sacha Horler), has come from Sydney. Nurse, Vera (Alicia Talbot), has come from the hospital down the road. Son, Bo (Russell Dykstra), arrives by bus from prison. He's out on parole.

Director and screenwriter Christina Andreef opens and unfolds her Soft Fruit through simple visual metaphors. Early in the film Vic (Linal Haft) performs a family ritual in his garden. He shows each of his daughters the (now flourishing) fruit tree he planted after she was born. However Bo's tree -- like his life -- is in a rather sadder state. When Bo appears in person, Vic immediately banishes him from the house and relegates him to the backyard shed, leaving us to wonder if he ever received much fatherly nurturing and guidance at all.

The family contains some complicated personalities. Prim Catholic Patsy (played brilliantly by Drynan) enjoys some Trainspotting-esque sinking and wallpaper-shifting scenes as she literally trips out on her medicine. Atheist Vic continually and mercilessly shoots birds that encroach on his territory while tenderly tending the lush flora in his farm-like yard. Bo's substance abuse problem fits his rebellious no-hoper outlook but belies a heart of gold. Nadia's sleazy water-bed trysts in motel rooms with her ex-partner may bring her apart. Conventional Vera will do anything to become pregnant except copulate with the former school dork who hangs around her at the hospital where she works.

Unfortunately, the MA rating will exclude many teenagers from seeing a film that unlike many Hollywood films and television shows contains only brief and non-gratuitous instances of nudity, violence, drug use and swearing. Rather than, say, Sirens (John Duigan, 1994) with its titillating soft porn exposure of 'supermodel' breasts, the full frontal nakedness of the supernormal (fat) bodies of the female and male leads in Soft Fruit is kept within familial context and to the bare minimum. Ditto for the scenes involving domestic violence, female masturbation, and partying with legal drugs. The gyno-phobic dialogue between Bo and two bikie mates (punctuated with a liberal sprinkling of "cunty cunts") moves the film further into a post-modern Feminist dynamic. Rather than censoring the typical usage of these 'c-words' by these male characters, Andreef exposes them repeatedly and excessively in one short scene -- as they would be overheard in an everyday conversation -- for the sheer hell of it. The ruminations by grandma and her grandkids about a more common private orifice are just as honest -- but unashamedly funny.

Soft Fruit evoked instances from my family history such as moments of sibling rivalry and collaboration, while preparing me for universal events -- like the death of a loved one -- with nerve, truth and humour. Some hysterically comic moments ease the tragedy at the core of the film. Occasionally kitsch but never melodramatic, Soft Fruit combines a tight, quirky and provocative script with fine casting and acting to provide a gutsy case of social realism that's terribly and terrifically Australian.

Soft Fruit, by Soft Fruit, 1999. Written and directed by Christina Andreef.
Producers: Helen Bowden and Jane Campion.
Cast: Jeanie Drynan, Linal Haft, Geneviéve Lemon, Sacha Horler, Alicia Talbot, Russell Dykstra.

Citation reference for this article
Simon-Astley Scholfield. "Familiar Funny Farm: 'Soft Fruit'" M/C Reviews 14 Feb. 2000. [your date of access] .

2000, 2006 © Simon Astley Scholfield