The Daughter Wows at Sydney Film Festival

Enfant terrible theatre director turned filmmaker, Simon Stone, makes a splash with his first film, The Daughter, which is vying for the lucrative Sydney Film Prize.

“A group of actors made this more human than we had thought possible… I like to watch films which move you, that change you, that resonate and really connect,” The Daughter producer Nicole O’Donoghue, commenting both before and after the Sydney Film Festival screening, neatly encapsulates a devastating and supreme accomplishment in Australian cinema, the first of the official competition films to screen at this year’s festival.

News of the film spread widely on social media following its premiere this week, resulting in a huge crowd at the Sydney City Apple Store to meet the film’s producers and director Simon Stone. FilmInk also spoke briefly with one of the film’s stars, Australian theatre and film veteran Ewen Leslie.

“It was a wonderful experience, it was very close to me, very special,” said Leslie. “Filming away from Sydney was great, there was a strong community vibe, like a travelling circus.”

Noting its origins at the Belvoir theatre (Stone’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck), Leslie and the others are thrilled at the film’s reception at the festival, an Australian production with a strong local cast filmed entirely in NSW.

Christian (Paul Schneider) returns home after many years to attend the wedding of his estranged father Henry (Geoffrey Rush). He meets old school friend Oliver (Leslie), getting to know his wife and teenage daughter (Miranda Otto and Odessa Young), reuniting with long-lost acquaintances including Oliver’s father (Sam Neill). Dealing with his own present demons and those of his familial past, Christian uncovers a bitter secret plaguing his father and the others he left behind so long ago.

“The core of it is that people are trying to find a solution to their own messed up psychological background because this person has arrived; that’s unsettling and everything’s coming back up,” said Stone. “Even if people think Christian is the most selfish person in the film he has discovered a truth about his life which he thinks is important.”

“They’re living in the past as much as the present then suddenly events lurch them into now.”

The Daughter is a tense and well-scripted exploration of these two families, set against the changing financial circumstances of the town and its workers. Building gradually to a tense and harrowing realisation, the film is thoroughly discomforting and markedly well made. The ending or non-ending, unsettlingly inconclusive and profoundly raw, is just what so much of the film succeeds at being, emotive and devastatingly tragic.

“The important thing that happens at the end is the response Oliver has to what he’s done a few scenes earlier,” continued Stone. “Regardless of the outcome of the next scene and the last scene, it’s now null and void because they’ve all come to realise something.”

Veterans Rush and Neill deliver superb performances amongst a phenomenally talented cast, though it is the transformative and deeply empathetic turns by both Schneider and Leslie which really cap it all off. The lesser known Young, playing the titular character Hedvig, manages to carve out her own distinct space within the film, holding her own against much more recognisable faces in a thoroughly challenging role.

“The person who has least awareness of this is the person who becomes the victim,” finished Stone. “The victim is the person with the least ability or skill to see perspective.”

A strong, tragic and worthy contender for the festival prize, The Daughter is currently screening at the Sydney Film Festival.

On FilmInk