Hotel Coolgardie is one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I’ve ever had. And while what happens in this film may not register as shocking in other films of this ilk, it induces that feeling simply because this is a documentary with real human behavior displayed on the screen.
The film follows two Finnish girls, Lina and Stephanie, as they take a job offer while short on cash on their world tour. They sign a three month contract to work a bar in a remote town in the Australian Outback. Seems simple, a relatively easy gig and a good way to earn money while experiencing authentic Australia.
But of course, it doesn’t turn out the way they imagined. The mining area where the pub resides has more men then women, and the town’s male residents celebrate the arrival of “fresh meat” every three months. Immediately after starting to work, Lina and Steph are welcomed with random presents, comments about their bodies, and direct insults to their intelligence. Much of the film is just scene after scene of this (almost entirely) verbal abuse, and the unflinching camera in these moments is what makes it so uncomfortable to watch at times. There is humor and lightness sprinkled throughout, and the film rarely gives the feeling that the girls are in physical danger from these men, but that’s almost besides the point.
Seeing Lina and Steph in this situation, where they are so casually and candidly being “othered” is stunning. As a male, Hotel Coolgardie gave me a feelings similar to those I experienced while watching Get Out as a while person.* I truly and deeply identified with both of these women as they showed a thicker skin than should ever be expected of anyone who didn’t need the income from a job so badly. The residents themselves seem to think there is nothing wrong with their behavior, which of course evokes “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys.” But there’s no reason anyone’s boss should call them ‘dumber than a horse.’
It also astounds me that all of this was captured by a camera crew present. The lack of awareness of those involved gives the feeling that this part of Australia still hasn’t broadcast any season of The Real World. As if this is a reality show from that distant time before the participants went into it crafting an on-camera persona. There’s a rawness to everything in Hotel Coolgardie that is at once fascinating and ultimately repulsive.
Hotel Coolgardie is having its Philly premiere next Monday, April 17, as part of the Cinedelphia Film Festival. Event details and tickets available here.
*Despite having a very Jewish last name, I rarely feel like an “other” day-to-day, but then also this happens.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.