Director Ami Drozd turns the camera on his own childhood experiences for this affecting portrait of cultural confusion and coming-of age. Two brothers, Tadek (younger) and Andrzej (older) are growing up fatherless in 1960’s Lodz, Poland. Their mother does what she can to scrape by, lies to get them out of trouble. In the process of her necessary preoccupation, she is unaware that her boys are part of a violent anti-Semitic gang. A massed attack on a Jewish schoolyard by the gang brings everything to light. The mother sees no option but to leave Poland with her family and go to Australia, the land of Tadek’s imagination. Australia turns out to be Israel, and on the boat ride the boys are made aware that, though raised catholic, they are part Jewish; the very thing they purport to hate. When the mother has trouble securing a job in their new homeland, the boys are sent to a kibbutz, where their polarized reactions to a new way of life are brought to the fore. Brothers once so close are faced with the dilemma of adaptation or stagnation.
My Australia has all the markings of a classic coming of age story, with complex undertones of what it means to “find” one’s culture, and how one reconciles the multiple contexts of their personal history. The complexity of this dilemma is not intellectual but emotional. The story is told simply, and the life of the film is in the people. Jakub Wroblewski as Tadek is a small revelation. His behavior, sometimes shocking, sometimes heartfelt, is always earnest and surprising. He has a natural sense of life’s comedy as well as its seriousness, and because of this, one can feel him struggling authentically with his own heart and the pains of the moment. While his brother acts out more of the same drama, hoping to escape back to Poland, it disrupts Tadek’s more easeful adaptation to Kibbutz life. The family of three does what it must to hold itself together, and to see a light in a dimness of unfamiliarity.
My Australia screens this Saturday at 8:45 PM at Gratz College as part of the 16th annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia.