Jim (Damian Hill) is up against it. He owes money to a loan shark and payment is due. On this particular day, he has his courier job to do, but he has also agreed to look after his son Alex (Ty Perham). There are particular rules that prevent him from driving around the parcels and Alex in the company van, so he is forced to use his own vehicle, a beautifully preserved classic Ford Fairlane.
From the moment we meet Jim, the obstacles begin piling on. We soon perceive, that the lack of money, the trouble he is going through, is all self-created. His co-workers, friends and ex-wife are very aware what sort of man he is and his son is now at an age when his childhood view of his father is beginning to crumble. Jim believes that gambling on a horse race is a good way to pay a loan shark.
WEST OF SUNSHINE is the feature debut of writer-director Jason Raftopolous. He has created a story that examines the fabric of a father and son relationship. Jim loves Alex, and how that works and plays out, is the core of the story. Knowing, and even being able to say he loves his son, is one thing, but the substance of Jim’s life and the example and effect of it on the boy, are in question. The concept that parental love can only be a positive is too simplistic when that parent is not a fully developed person emotionally.
How much audiences enjoy the film, will depend on whether they find Jim exasperating or can identify with his struggles. Damian Hill does a fine job as the lead character. His real-life stepson plays Alex and is also fully convincing and engaging in his role. Raftopolous has elicited solid performances from his leads and the entire cast, some of whom are amateur actors.
The director was inspired in part by Italian Neo-Realism and Vittorio De Sica’s BICYCLE THIEVES (1948), however the film’s inner-city Melbourne locations and story, also bring to mind the kind of Australian filmmaking we saw more of in the 1970s and ‘80s. Films about working-class characters on the edge, never disappear entirely, but they certainly haven’t been a mainstay of our nation’s cinema for many years.
WEST OF SUNSHINE has garnered a nomination for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival and won the award for Excellence in Film Direction at the Barcelona International Film Festival. This is a very successful feature debut for this Australian independent film and its director. The running time is a swift and well-edited 78 minutes. Rating (7.5/10).