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September 04, 2018



Ivan Sen - 2016
Lightyear Entertainment

Goldstone could easily be described as a contemporary Chinatown, set in Australia's outback. What begins as the story of a detective looking for a missing woman, constantly reminded that he is an unwanted outsider, is also the story of exploitation - land deals, shady financial schemes, displacement of the local population, and environmental ruin. Keep in mind that this comparison is restricted to the main narrative elements. In no way does Ivan Sen try to mimic the look of other films except for a shoot out near the end.

The film is the second to center on freelance detective Jay Swan, seen previously in Mystery Road (2013). Swan is racially mixed, Aborigine father, white mother, so is viewed with suspicion by both the indigenous population and the white authority figures and settlers. The themes of race and cultural as well as physical displacement are personal for Sen, whose own background is mixed. Sen announces his themes as the film opens with a montage of vintage photos of white settlers in shacks, Aborigines in western clothing, and Chinese workers. Sen suggests here that the history of Australia has always been been an untidy intertwining of the native people, settlers and immigrant labor that is still in progress.

It might be an exaggeration to call Goldstone a mining town. Scattered at random along a two-lane highway are various pre-fab buildings, a police station, a bar, and a motel that is comprised of small trailers. A large portion of land is block off as the property of the mining company. The mayor, a middle-aged woman, and the mine's supervisor, plot to expand mining operations into land belonging to the indigenous community, attempting to bribe their leaders. The mining operation also involved with human trafficking, bringing in Chinese women who have been forced in prostitution, primarily on behalf of the miners. The environmental impact is suggested by a shot of several dead fish at the edge of a lake.

While integrated as part of his story telling, Sen uses many panning shots of the sunbaked area, hard, dusty land and mountains. Sen also likes to use extreme overhead shots with the camera looking down on his characters, a sort of god's eye view of the action. The only location that easily can be described as beautiful is a stream hidden between a narrow mountain pathway, with indigenous artwork along the wall. It is suggested that this stream is only known by a few, and the artwork has mystical meaning.

While it isn't necessary to see Mystery Road to enjoy Goldstone, it does help as there are some references to the earlier film. Aaron Pedersen returns as Swan, this time significantly worse for wear. One of Hong Kong's first female action stars, Cheng Pei-pei, plays the madam in control of the prostitutes. David Gulpilil is virtually typecast here as the Aborigine leader who refuses to be corrupted by the mining company. Jacki Weaver has also been making a career as a villain, here offering homemade cakes and a toothy smile while using her position to intimidate others. Sen not only wrote and directed his film, but also served as cinematographer, editor and music composer. Goldstone and Ivan Sen were nominated for several Australian Academy Awards, losing to the juggernaut that was Hacksaw Ridge.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 4, 2018 09:15 AM