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A Cold Summer (2003)


A Cold Summer depicts the dysfunctional entanglement of three damaged young individuals in Sydney, two of them old female school friends, the third a male alcoholic living in his car.

Bobby (Teo Gebert), who has absented himself from his job in advertising, starts a voraciously physical but coldly impersonal affair with the manipulative Tia (Olivia Pigeot). Tia, also known as Megan, claims to be a jazz singer married to an airline pilot. They meet in the street after her bag is snatched. Tia’s old friend Phaedra (Susan Prior) is a vulnerable florist in mourning for her drug-addicted former lover. Despite the women’s surface friendliness, they begin a game of vicious one-upmanship into which Bobby is drawn.

Eventually Tia and Bobby come clean about the personal issues they’ve been trying to hide. All three realise the destructiveness of their behaviour and tentatively look forward to a fresh start.

Curator’s notes

New Zealand-born director Paul Middleditch’s emotionally powerful, micro-budget drama features three outstanding performances and a sense of spontaneity and emotional truth reminiscent of the work of the late US independent filmmaker John Cassavetes. This kind of film is impossible in the Australian film-funding system, which requires funding commitments based on a finished script. Middleditch and the three principal cast members moved into a shared house to work on the project from scratch over several months, without making any approach to outside funding sources.

Drawing on their own personal issues and situations, the actors gradually created and refined their characters in workshops, a method not dissimilar to that used by the British filmmaker Mike Leigh. Some of these sessions were filmed on digital camera to help prepare for the production shoot on a handheld 35mm camera. The editing made frequent use of jump cuts (abrupt, slightly jarring edits within the same scene).

This story could easily have become overbearing, but the tight-knit creative team injects liveliness and wit into the proceedings. The film, which features plenty of sexually frank dialogue and some raw and relatively explicit sex scenes, is often very funny – usually in unexpected places.

With great insight, A Cold Summer captures differing ways in which people try to deal with their inner pain. Tia denies it and works to undermine others; Phaedra embalms her pain in ritual (having turned her bedroom into a shrine to her dead ex-lover); Bobby and Tia choose the oblivion of frenetic sex and alcohol.

Middleditch uses glamorous Sydney Harbour and beach locations in a matter-of-fact way that mirrors the emotional desolation of the characters’ lives. Instead of resorting to sentimentality or trying to make the characters obviously likable, the film ultimately finds sympathy for them by stripping away their delusions and game playing to reveal the vulnerability lurking underneath.

A Cold Summer was released in Australian cinemas on 26 February 2004. It received nominations for Best Actress (Olivia Pigeot) at the 2004 AFI Awards; Best Actress (Pigeot) and Supporting Actress (Susan Prior) at the 2003 Film Critics’ Circle of Australia Awards; and Best Director at the 2004 IF Awards.