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Men’s Group (2008)


Six men of varying ages and backgrounds meet each week at the home of convenor Paul (Paul Gleeson) to discuss their lives and feelings. After each meeting, the audience is given brief glimpses of the participants as they go about their everyday lives outside the group. The gruff Moses (Paul Tassone) and stand-up comic Freddy (Steve Rodgers) attend voluntarily; the others are variously sent by their doctor (elderly widower Cecil, played by Don Reid), family (foul-mouthed ocker Alex, played by Grant Dodwell) or employer (the taciturn Lucas, played by Steve Le Marquand).

When Anthony (William Zappa) drops in for one week to talk about the death of his daughter in a car accident, his emotional honesty shakes up the other men. But it takes a tragedy affecting one of the group for the rest to address their fears and pain with a candour that allows them to start moving forward in their lives.

Curator’s notes

Men’s Group is one of a number of powerful, ultra-low budget features made during the 2000s outside of the government funding system (see also The Magician, 2005; The Jammed and Boxing Day, both 2007). It deals with serious themes – death, loneliness, family breakdown, suicide, divorce and the perceived anti-male bias in the Family Court of Australia. But these issues are subsidiary to what might be called its psychological and existential concerns, its deepest themes relating to the daily struggle to live a meaningful life. The film distinguishes itself in its insightful examination of the male subjects’ rocky path to self-knowledge; the difficulty many males have in expressing their deepest emotions; the masks of normality and denial that men wear in public to paper over their private pain and distress.

Vital to the film’s success is the way it was made. Men’s Group was not shot from a script in the conventional way but built up with the actors in a series of workshops – not unlike the methods of British director Mike Leigh. Director and co-writer Michael Joy and his script collaborator and producer, John L Simpson, started to develop the script after interviewing psychologists, personal counsellors and men’s group facilitators. Joy also conducted individual workshops with the actors to enable them to develop a deeper understanding of their characters. He would feed some of the insights he gained from these sessions into the script.

The actors never saw the script during filming. Instead they worked spontaneously to reach a given scene objective using some pre-arranged lines of dialogue, but also improvising many of their lines in reaction to the other actors in the scene. This painstaking creative method largely explains the uncanny, almost documentary-like naturalism that Joy manages to extract from his performers.

Men’s Group began its Australian cinema release in Sydney on 22 September 2008. It was the surprise winner of three major awards at the 2008 IF Awards – Best Film, Script and Actor (Grant Dodwell). This was a major achievement for an entirely independently-made feature competing against higher profile titles including The Black Balloon (2007).