As it turns out, this month’s theme could have easily been “Accents I Enjoy Listening To.” We’ve leapt from New Zealand to Ireland to France, and back to New Zealand’s neighbor to the west, Australia. As a bonus, my period drama loving heart gets to enjoy plenty of flouncy dresses along with all of those exclamations of “Struth!”
Ladies in Black
16-year-old Lisa begins work at Goode’s department store as she dreams of attending university, befriending the colorful characters who work alongside her.
In 1959 Sydney, the ladies who work at Goode’s department store all wear black, thus explaining our film’s title.
Lisa is the newest member of the team, working temporarily as she waits for her exam results and hopes to attend university, becoming a poet or actress. Her dad Ed is less than thrilled at this prospect, believing a university education is a waste of time.
As Lisa is helping out during he Christmas rush, the store is busy from open to close, and she starts out more or less as everyone’s errand bitch. Refugee Magda, who runs the exclusive dress shop within the store, recognizes Lisa as a clever and dedicated employee. Lisa begins helping Magda, and Magda in turn has all of the style advice to offer. Magda brings Lisa into the fold, inviting her over to enjoy exotic foods like rye bread(!) and Hungarian husband Stefan’s intellectual conversation about classic novels. As it happens, Lisa also experiences her first love in the form of a divine one-of-a-kind dress she can never possibly afford.
Meanwhile, coworker Patty is struggling to keep her marriage alive as she and her husband try for a baby. After a memorable evening with a sexy nightie, he leaves without a word for the stupidest fucking reason you will ever hear in your life.
Another of Lisa’s coworkers, Fay, is a hopeless romantic who is incredibly disillusioned with the fellas of Sydney. A sensitive soul, she cries during French films and yearns for the old world charm of a man who will kiss her on the hand and prove chivalry isn’t dead. As Lisa conspires to set up Fay with Magda’s continental friend Rudi, a Hungarian refugee, a New Year’s party seems the perfect place for things to fall into place. Nothing is as romantic as lively Hungarian folk dancing, after all.
As Fay and Rudi get to know each other, Patty’s husband returns from the ether, and Lisa does outstandingly well on her exams. Everything seems to be coming together so perfectly…but how can Lisa overcome the obstacle of her stubborn father?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a cozy fleece blanket of a film; it’s impossible not to root for the characters, who have quirks that make them seem real. I especially love the vibrancy of the small but mighty continental immigrant community here, even as their presence is a stark reminder of the persistence of xenophobia. It blows my mind that Australia, which was incredibly sparsely populated, resented the influx of WWII refugees to such a degree that it was a taboo to befriend–let alone date or marry–anyone of the community. And it wasn’t too long ago that SALAMI was considered ethnic food?!??!!
Thematically, this film couldn’t be more perfectly timed as the United States and many other countries have an opportunity to help refugees and consistently fail to do so. It’s disturbing to see the logic of 60 years ago applied to a situation that has only gotten worse as more conflicts and climate crises have left people without a home. It does make me appreciate greatly when Stefan reminds Magda not to expect too much from the Australians, who are, after all, descended from convicts.
On a minor note, I’m absolutely obsessed with Magda and her dynamic with Stefan, the ’50s aesthetic, and Fay’s dresses.
However, things do wrap up too neatly for basically every character in the film, and there’s not much conflict to speak of. Things are resolved too perfectly to make this a truly memorable film.