Mystery Road was a movie we had a lot of time for back at our second LFF in 2013. Ivan Sen’s brilliant noir copper creation Jay Swan was superbly articulated by Aaron Pedersen and the movie was uniformly excellent in its fusing of western, noir detective story and real world Aboriginal issues. Sen is back at this year’s festival with an equally superb follow up, Goldstone.
After the carnage wrought by Swan’s refusal to conform to his perceived role as the white man’s stooge in the previous movie, our first sight of him this time is being pulled over for drink driving in the middle of the outback by local copper Josh (Alex Russell). Swan silently provides a breath test and promptly collapses on getting out of his battered truck. Dropping him in the drunk tank at the rural outpost he mans, Josh rifles through the bag he found in Swan’s car and soon realises he has a fellow lawman in custody. Fellow doesn’t quite cover it though as Swan is both an out of towner and of Aboriginal descent.
It transpires that Swan is in town looking for a reported missing person, a young woman of Chinese origin. Nobody in the shadowy mining community is interested though, preferring to concentrate on acquiring the rights to mine for gold from the local leaders. Throw in a dodgy mayor, a shifty mine director and all manner of stonewall hostility from the locals and this is classic detective noir.
Writing, directing, composing the music and taking control of the cinematography again, Sen is something of a genius with this series of movies, and there will be a follow up to this one. Though the cases are not related, Swan brings with him all the baggage from the previous movie, plus a good deal more acquired in between. Discussions with the locals regarding his father and brothers give tantalising clues as to where we might go next, as does tragic news about his daughter.
As with Mystery Road, Goldstone makes the most of the stunningly bleak landscape, Sen’s wonderful overhead drone shots amplify the desolation as well as hark back to Aboriginal ways of tracking. His characters are where the heart of the movie is though and the development of Swan from the previous film is deliberate and interesting to watch. Pedersen plays the role perfectly and the world weariness now seems cranked up as once again Swan must face down outright prejudice and a astounding but not surprising lack of respect for both the locals and their traditions.
With this superb follow up, Sen has solidified Jay Swan as one of the great contemporary noir figures. Riven with tragedy but with an almost unfathomable forward momentum, Swan is a magnificent achievement. Sen does well to tackle real life issues whilst infusing his film with fascinating fictional characters. Jackie Weaver is horribly good as the crooked mayor and it’s always a pleasure to watch David Gulpilil on the screen, here as one of the local leaders required to give consent to the mining company. Thrilling, meaningful and fascinating, this is a series of movies that I really hope extends beyond the next instalment.