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Celia - Celia( Blu Ray) [Second Run - 2021]

Celia slowly but surely subverts the nostalgic childhood drama form-pushing into some unsettling at points quite unpleasant places. The films based in 1950’s Australia, as the twin fears of communism and being overrun by rabbits grip the country- with the film focusing on the troubled nine-year-old girl of the title. Here from Second Run films is a new region free blu ray release of the late 1980’s film, taking in a new scan of the picture, a  feature-length doc about the picture, and a few other extras.

Released in 1989 Celia was the first film from Adelaide Australia born Ann Turner, who wrote and directed it. In total, she’s helmed four films - going from 1910 rural set melodrama featuring Russell Crow Hammers Over The Anvil (1993), onto quirky/ surreal golf comedy Dallas Doll (1994), and more recent stalking focused thriller Irresistible (2006)- which featured an impressive cast of Susan Sarandon, Sam Neil, and Emily Blunt.

The film focuses on middle-class suburban family the Carmichael’s- which takes in Ted (Nicholas Eadie) the family’s uptight father and reds under the bed obsessed father, his pinched and often on edge wife Pat (Mary-Anne Fahey), and their blond nine-year-old daughter Celia (Rebecca Smart).  The young girl seems to have few friends and is decidedly troubled- all she wants is a pet rabbit, which she has become somewhat obsessed with. And this is made worse by the constantly taunting by class know -it- all Stephanie (Amelia Frid), who’s the daughter of John Burke (William Zappa) a  stern and overly officious policeman. 
 
The tilted and lightly off-angle feel of the film is in place from the off, as young Celia finds her much loved granny dead in bed as the main cloying and buoyant soundtrack cue seemingly plays on a loop. As we get into the story, we see Celia sitting in class being read a disturbing story about an old man who cut up his dog, in an attempt to try and keep away the nightly visits from The Hobyah's- a band of tall blue lizard humanoid-like creatures. Even though Celia is clearly unsettled by the story, she requests to take it home for the Xmas break- along the way giving her nightmares and really impacting on her already troubled psyche. Though things do seem to improve for Celia as a new family move in next door- the Tanners, who have three young children- who she befriends and starts playing with- unfortunately like much in the film- this all quickly goes awry, as it seems the family are part of the communist party, with Celia's father Ted getting the families husband sacked from a company they both work for. This pushes Celia deeper into her troubling fantasy world- even though she has been given the pet rabbit she always wanted which she names Murgatroyd.
 
As we move on things go from bad to worse for Celia, and her, unfortunately, pet- who is pulled and dragged around, and later branded in a particularly unpleasant scene. And in time policeman Burke is keen on confiscating the rabbit, as there is a countrywide panic about the number of rabbits on the hand which are eating and destroying crops. With things moving towards the films troubling and downbeat resolve. 
 
The acting/ filming of the picture are all done in a competent and pro way, so technically it’s an impressive debut film. The problem is that no one is very likeable or relatable, the Tanner family are the only semi likeable characters, but they are removed fairly quickly. The dragging around, and general rough and ready handling of the rabbit also left me rather troubled too- I’m sure( hope) that no rabbits were hurt during film- but as an animal lover this element rather bothered and tainted the whole things for me, and that added to the unlikeable characters- made the film a rather slog to get through, with its one hour and forty runtimes often very much dragging. I can certainly appreciate/ respect what writer/ director Ann Turner was trying to do/ get across with the film, and there’s no doubt it does subvert the family drama genre- it just wasn’t for me.
 
 
Moving onto this new Blu Ray presentation- and its region free. We get a new nice, crisp, and clear 2k print of the film. We get a good selection of extras- first off there’s Celia's World- a just over hour new documentary, which finds Ann Turner interview and discussing with others about the films historic groundings, communism and childhood in the 50’s oz, the film itself, and whether or not the film can be counted as horror. This is a good in-depth and far-reaching doc, with some great insights from those who lived through the ’50s in oz. Next, we get a seventeen-minute stand along an interview with Turner, and a There's Something About Celia- which finds Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of '1000 Women in Horror', in conversation with Maria Lewis at the Australian Centre for Moving Image- this runs around the twenty-minute mark. The release is topped off with a glossy twenty-four-page inlay, this features an essay by film historian Michael Brooke and Professor Joy Damousi, and ‘The Hobyahs’, a traditional folktale featured in the film. So, a great selection of extras.


In conclusion, Celia is a film that I admire, more than I enjoyed. Most of the characters who populate the picture are either deeply flawed and/ or despicable, even our so-called called heroine shifts between being brattish, troubled and downright nasty. I’d say the film certainly mangers to do what it sets out to do, by well and truly bending-at-points near break nostalgic childhood drama form. The problem is that there is little or no light, humour, or hope here, and that added to the already mentioned unlikable characterization and animal issues meant it just didn’t work for me. All that said, another nicely produced and curated release from the guys at Second Sight.

Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5

Roger Batty
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