Marguerite -- The Black Balloon

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by Estherfromjerusalem, Jun 17, 2009.

  1. Estherfromjerusalem

    Estherfromjerusalem Well-Known Member

    Marg, I remember you wrote several times about that film in which some of your children "starred" (I'm joking, but they did have a small part, I seem to remember). Was that film called "The Black Balloon"? Because I was proofreading at the newspaper today, and I read that that film is coming to Israel, and the blurb about it said it had won loads of prizes, an Australian film, and something about an autistic child, I don't remember exactly, but I thought "I must ask Marg if that's 'her' film." So -- is it? And if so, although I never ever go to the cinema, I will go for you, if you tell me exactly where your children are in the film, and I will look out for them. (That's if I make it there, what with the granddaughter's wedding and all).

    Love, Esther
  2. mstang67chic

    mstang67chic Going Green

    Esther, I know that's "Marg's" film but I don't know where her kids are in it specifically. I remember her saying that they were in a scene as different animals but that's it. (Something about a school play maybe?)
  3. Estherfromjerusalem

    Estherfromjerusalem Well-Known Member

    Thanks, Mstang. Now at least I will know which scene to look out for.

    I do hope I get to see it.

    Love, Esther
  4. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    It's a great film, funny in places but harrowing in others. An uplifting ending. Very real in the way it deals with people and their reactions.

    The plot - Thomas Mollison is not quite 16, his dad is in the army and he's at a new school. The family has just moved in to a new (army) area. There is a girl at school that he likes but his main worry is - what will the kids think if they find out about his autistic brother Charlie?

    But he has no choice when his mother's pregnancy starts to go badly, and she has to go to hospital. Thomas has to step up and help look after Charlie. It's not easy.

    Meanwhile his relationship with Jackie is developing. She has more compassion than he has given her credit for. Other kids are not so understanding, and the bullying is a problem.

    Through the film Thomas learns to accept that family is family, "you're weak as **** if you can't look after your own." He turns from rejection of the problems Charlie causes him, to helping him reach a major milestone in his life. And through it all, at the end - is the realisation that while Charlie may never change, Thomas has and will, he has learned to love and accept what cannot be changed.

    The pivotal scene in the film is the Special School's production of a musical version of Noah's Ark, called "Afloat!" The call was sent out for autistic kids and their siblings, to be in the Afloat! segment. I think the original idea was that there would nbe pairing, the animals two by two would be siblings, one with autism and one without. But it quickly became too grey an area, plus there were problems with rehearsals clashing with other events in the city. One sibling dropped out because it clashed with Sydney's Big Day Out, a massive annual rock concert. He got replaced with a classmate from difficult child 3's drama class. In fact, most of the cast of Afloat! was from difficult child 3's drama class. In a lot of cases, the siblings were also on the spectrum (as in our case).

    With difficult child 3 as our most autistic, he was our 'ticket' as it were, to justify going to the audition. At the time we had no idea it was a major film, we thought it was a low-budget student film. It would be unpaid, we were told. I think that was to make sure we were genuine, I don't know. But the kids did end up being paid, maybe the early stuff was to help keep the project low-key for everyone, and under wraps.

    At the audition difficult child 3 insisted he didn't want to be there, he didn't want to be in a film, he would refuse to dress up, he didn't want to talk to the camera.
    We finally persuaded him to read a book so they could hear his voice. he was withdrawn and difficult, but he IS acute-looking kid and they really wanted him. He insisted he wouldn't dress up as an animal. The kids were being given choice of animal to dress up as (within reason) so difficult child 3 was asked, "Why not be Noah? He was the ultimate wildlife warrior!"
    So he said, "I'll think about it."
    Meanwhile easy child 2/difficult child 2, an accomplished stiltwalker, offered to be a giraffe, on stilts. So they had to find another stiltwalker. That wasn't easy!
    difficult child 1 who LOVES birds, especially birds of prey, was happy to be a psychotic Rainbow Lorikeet. They decided that the Lorikeets were to be the soccer hooligans of the bird world so he and the other Lorikeet (a boy we hand't met before) choreographed their own fight scene. Much of it had to be cut, they were too good and it was distracting.

    So if you see the film - you see our three briefly halfway through (with about four others), when the mother delivers her son's costume to the rehearsal. You mostly see easy child 2/difficult child 2 with her giraffe hat on. In that scene difficult child 3 was being difficult and lying down on the stage behind everyone.
    But the main scene - difficult child 3 introduces it, then you see all the kids including the other two. He had to start off the scene, he was perfect with his lines take after take after take, I was so proud of him. Toni Collette (executive producer, also the mother in the film) went up to him afterwards to tell him so. He of course didn't know who she was, just "a nice lady".

    He's grown a lot since the film was made. You don't see a lot of the kids, but they are in the screen credits. The first big scene with all the animals only goes for a couple of minutes, then the action shifts to the problems backstage.

    Surprisingly, you see a lot of husband. He chose to sit in the audience at the edge of the crowd, where he thought the cameras would not be pointed. But the piano was there and the camera kept panning to the piano, with husband's glasses reflecting the light. We got quite a surprise when we saw the film.

    I was not in any of it. I was supposed to be sitting with husband, but I felt I needed to be available to difficult child 3 backstage, so I stayed out of the audience. The "audience wranglers" had them all located at another venue up the road for meals, gathering place etc. While the kids had their own well-rehearsed placement and routine. It was all very well put together and a valuable learning experience.

    Having the outcome to be an award-winning film just was the icing on the cake.

    The language is graphic but fairly typical of teenage kids (sorry to say). A friend of ours took her 10 year old daughter along to see it which was perhaps not a brilliant decision, but despite the language and the occasional violence, she liked the film and could see why that stuff was necessary. She is old for her years, that girl.

    Esther, they don't show any 'naughty bits' but they also don't hold back on the subject matter. The autistic boy at one point smears faeces on the floor, that might hit home a bit for you. We had to tell our kids before the first screening, that it was Nutella and peanut butter that they used. Otherwise the kids would have been out of there! When I say "our kids" I mean the autistic kids in the cast, at the preview screening they set up for us all.
    There are other things that happen which are at the same time shocking but also hilarious. A lot of it is also very Australian, in terms of the humour and the sort of things we laugh at.

    Luke Ford who played Charlie did a brilliant job. He actually spent time with the young man that "Charlie" is based on. We met him too, the likeness was incredible. Luke has since gone on to appear in "Mummy III" as the now-adult Alex. We also saw him in an Aussie-made murder mystery, on TV last week.
    Thomas was played by an Aussie soap star, Rhys Wakefield. Rhys & Luke would go out in public, in character, to test their performance and develop it. Luke reported to us (and also mentioned it in the Special Features in the DVD) how he was horrified to meet people who would use any opportunity when Rhys had his back turned, to try an aggravate Luke. He said it happened far more than he had expected, he said it was far too common. They then used this in the film, there is a segment which shows exactly this kind of escalation of behaviour by other people.

    The writer/director lived this herself. I think she depicted it with love but also realism.

    Take popcorn, take a hanky but also take a friend. Then go have coffee afterwards and kick up your heels - the ending is happy.


    a PS - the link I posted above had a poster that reminded me. The photo at the bottom of the page shows a tranquil 'swimming hole' where, in the story, Thomas learns to swim. The place is in reality only a few minutes' drive from our village. They haven't been able to show the full beauty of the place, with its sheer sandstone wall worn smooth by the waterfall which cascades into the pool. It's the lagoon at Wattamolla. A beautiful place. In the story, it's a swimming hole at an inland river. In reality, it's a saltwater lagoon fed by a freshwater waterfall, and it opens onto an unspoilt ocean beach. No houses, no buildings. Aussie TV & film uses the place a lot. I remember them filming "The Earthling" there, with Rick Shroder and William Holden.