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Review: The Five Provocations, Melbourne Women in Film Festival

Liza Dezfouli

Melbourne Women in Film Festival presents Angie Black's strong feature.
Review: The Five Provocations, Melbourne Women in Film Festival

Angie Black's The Five Provocations.

The Five Provocations by writer/director Angie Black is a feature film about the intertwined lives of some (somewhat privileged) folk in Melbourne. Marlena (Sapidah Kian) is mourning her lover Rosie (Lisa Garner), recently killed in a car crash. Rosie’s lawyer husband Paul (Tony Moclair), is struggling, with complicated feelings about losing his wife, with the demands of new lover Susie and with parenting daughter Queenie (Olive Black). Bridget (Rebecca Bower) has recently escaped the Closed Brethren cult in NZ. Bridget moves in with Marlena who needs the extra rent money so she can open her bar. Clinton (Blake Osborn) is a plumber with a flamboyant side and burdened by a family secret. His is a warm, low-key presence.

These four main characters are given their own chapters, with the last segment – Forgiveness – tying up loose ends. Via pop-up performances from visiting divas, the main players are given a psychological nudge to reconcile with a deeper part of themselves. When Marlena drives to the country house she shared with Rosie, she’s visited by the first Provocateur, Maude Davey (representing ‘naked grief’?). Now Marlena’s tears come.

The Five Provocations is a solid ensemble work. The stories are strongly presented in an understated and naturalistic style: the tone of The Five Provocations reminded me somewhat of Frances Ha. There’s no difficulty believing in the connections between the characters, or in their problems. But I didn’t care about them, except Bridget, whose story is left hanging.

Trish (Hester Joyce) roused my curiosity as she’s compellingly domineering but she’s a minor character and not necessary to the plot. It’s a crowded stage and the film could be made tighter by a more intense focus on the main four. We’re invested chiefly in Marlena, but, charismatic as she is, I wasn’t always convinced by Kian’s performance. The film is self-conscious of its charm. For instance, we’re obviously meant to find Dutchie (Steven Gray) adorable, whereas he’s a type we see often.

It’s nicely filmed, with good use of terrain and some pleasing images but the pace of The Five Provocations is too even; it’s bloodless. Partly to blame is wasted dialogue occurring in moments where visuals would suffice, e.g. Paul talking about the wine over dinner adds nothing.

The main problem for me, however, is that nothing in the conventional world determined by the film supports the surreal cabaret element. The Provocateurs are intriguing and whimsical, but there’s a disconnect between their appearances and the complacent naturalism of the rest of it: in this world, if this happened, the characters would think they were hallucinating or going bonkers, but they take it in their stride. The divas are deliberately dropped in (for the sake of fabulousness as much as anything, if I'm being mean), but without weirdness elsewhere this doesn’t quite work.

That said, the film tells some fresh stories. Black's an original voice and is well in control of her material. She knows what she's doing and her decisions are masterful. Kudos to her. 

Rating: 3 ½ stars ★★★☆ 

The Five Provocations

By Angie Black

Presented by Black Eye Films 

Melbourne Women In Film Festival

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Liza Dezfouli has been reviewing film, live performance, books and occasionally music for over a decade. She blogs about film under her own name and writes another, somewhat less-measured one called WhenMrWrongfeelsSoRight. She creates work for the stage herself every now and then and can occasionally be seen in shows or in short films. For more: www.lizadezfouli.com.