TIFF Special Presentations Section

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Robert Connolly

Writer: Robert Connolly

Cast: Ilsa Fogg, Radha Mitchell, Mia Wasikowska, Eric Bana

Screened at: TIFF Bell Lightbox, Ontario, 9/17/22

Opens: September 16th, 2022 (Toronto International Film Festival)

Nature provides tremendous bounties that are appreciated by many, but their existence and preservation aren’t always profitable. Bulldozing a park to make way for a new apartment building or shopping mall is a common occurrence, and those who want to see what they’ve always known remain untouched don’t tend to win that fight. The water is a particularly rich place which gives life to do many species, a good number of which are endangered because of unstable habitats and those who choose to hunt them, unconcerned about their eventual extinction. Blueback is a beautiful story about truly loving the water and all it offers.

Abby (Mia Wasikowska), a marine biologist on an exhibition, returns home to Western Australia when her mother has a stroke. Being back where she grew up right on the ocean triggers memories of her time as a teenager (Ilsa Fogg), when her mother Dora (Radha Mitchell) pushed her at an early age to be comfortable with the water and to develop a love for the many animals within it, including a large groper that a young Abby names Blueback. As she grows up, she watches her mother fight vehemently to protect her backyard ocean from predatory developers who want to buy her house and erase all trace of what makes it special.

The film’s first flashback finds Dora taking an eight-year-old Abby out on the water and defiantly dropping her wedding ring into the ocean, telling Abby that she has to go after it. Once she passes that test and brings it up, Dora congratulates her on being able to go that deep and says she can now share greater wonders with her since she is able to competently swim. Abby is therefore immensely comfortable in the ocean, and it’s no surprise that she goes into a career related to it, even if her desire to leave home causes friction with her mom, who would rather chain herself to a bulldozer to prevent damage to her beloved ocean than ever consider going anywhere else.

Blueback, which comes from writer-director Robert Connolly, features a pair of fantastic performances. Mitchell, an established actress who has played a range of roles over the course of her career, infuses Dora with an unflappable individuality, so fiercely committed to her beliefs that she can’t see much beyond that. It makes her an interesting kind of parent, one who is happy to encourage theoretically illegal behavior if it’s for a moral reason. Fogg is an excellent discovery, making Abby seem wise beyond her years but also shaped by her unusual relationship with her mother, which gives her a certain type of independence. Wasikowska’s portrayal of the adult Abby complements Fogg’s more fleshed-out turn nicely.

Blueback makes spectacular use of its gorgeous scenery, frequenting staying on its characters as they dive deep towards the ocean floor and encounter Blueback or some other water creature along the way. The cinematography by Andrew Commis paints a lush portrait of both land and water, and the visual effects used to create the fish are also quite impressive, to the point that audiences may not realize that scenes were not filmed with a live animal. Blueback is just as much about human connection as it is the bond between these women and the marine life they so love to explore, and it functions very well on both levels. In addition to a strong story with rich characters and dazzling visuals, it has the ability to transport audiences who have never had a relationship with water or nature like this into a mindset that makes it seem vividly real.

102 minutes

Story – B+

Acting – A-

Technical – A-

Overall – B+

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