|THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND
(director/writer: Fred Schepisi; cinematographer: Ian
Baker; editor: Brian Kavanagh; music: Bruce
Smeaton; cast: Arthur
Dignam (Brother Francine), Simon
(Tom Allen), Charles McCallum (Brother Sebastian), Nick Tate (Brother Victor), John Frawley (Brother Celian), George Hanrahan (Gerry Duggan), Peter Cox (Brother James), John Diedrich (Fitz), Thomas Keneally (Father Marshall); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fred Schepsi; Warner Home Video; 1976-Australia)
|"Never caught my interest."
by Dennis Schwartz
The talented Australian Fred Schepisi's ("Barbarosa"/"Plenty"/"Roxanne") first feature film as writer and director, shot like a documentary, is an Australian New Wave film that is a coming of age story about a religious seeker. It's a probing, slow-moving, joyless, semi-autobiographical tale about a Roman Catholic boys' seminary boarding school in Australia, in the 1950s, where sexual desire is the problem for the students and for the brothers it's how to protect their charges from sinful sexual behavior.
The Australian Film Commission provided partial financial support.
opening scene, a brother scolds an adolescent for showering
in a crowded public locker-room without a bathing
suit, and that gives you an idea of how repressive are
the school's attitudes to anything sexual.
The story follows
13-year-old Tom Allen (Simon Burke), a serious
student whose calling for the church becomes
questionable because of his masturbation and sinful
thoughts. Meanwhile the ascetic Brother Francine
(Arthur Dignam) prowls the school looking for
evidence of ''the undisciplined mind.'' In contrast,
the hard-drinking Brother Victor (Nick Tate),
someone less rigid than his colleagues, dismisses
the harsh discipline over sexual matters enforced by
the seminary and takes a more humanistic stand.
There's also a subplot about a secret student
society that's into sadomasochism, but fails to
well-photographed and well-made inflammatory film, on
a mission to find out what is meant by 'right
thinking,' never caught my interest, as it seemed to
have all the answers and thereby never engaged me in
its ethical arguments. It was an uneasy viewing
experience, showing how forceful authoritarian figures
can be to impressionable youths they control and how
difficult it is to expect self-control from youngsters
with awakening sexual desires.
REVIEWED ON 6/5/2014 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ