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HEY HEY IT’S ESTHER BLUEBURGER – Charming tale of exuberance

Starring: Danielle Catanzariti, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Toni Collette
Director: Cathy Randall
Rated: M

THIS is an accomplished first film for writer-director Cathy Randall, drawing on her Sydney school experiences after she moved from South Africa to Australia aged 7.

Her memories of going to a private school and not fitting in has led to her creating an eccentrically lively Australian screen character.

Esther Blueburger is Jewish as is Cathy Randall.

This is an important (and so far rather unusual) focus for an Australian film: the Jewish family and their beliefs, preparation for the Bar Mitzvah for both boy and girl, the ritual, the party (full of humorously stereotypical older Jewish mothers), the ignoring of invitations by the schoolgirls, the Jewish school for Esther’s twin brother – and his adolescent fervour for prayer and for kosher meals.

This is interesting and entertaining, something of a breakthrough for Australian cinema (Norman Loves Rose and Two Brothers Running were made in the 1980s).

The film is an M-rated for Australian audiences with a smattering of swearing and some allusions to adolescent experimental sexual behaviour – enough to raise discussions for teenage girls, parents and teachers.

Danielle Catanzariti is a real find. She gives a totally self-possessed performance for her first film.

She exudes confidence but, under the surface, are a 13-year-old’s uncertainties: not accepted by the accomplished Australian version of WASP girls; not normal – although Normal is what she calls her pet duck who is forbidden to go to her Bar Mitzvah and who turns up as a featherless specimen for a class on the digestive system; exaggerating and lying to her parents; happy to find a friend and secretly transferring to the public school (under the cover of a Swedish exchange student!).

It is this friendship with Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes – very different from Whale Rider and her role as Mary in The Nativity Story) and her mother (a strong cameo from Toni Collette) that disrupts her life.

At first it is fun. Then she responds to taunts and dares from her new friends and becomes two-faced when she bullies another girl and then basks in acceptance at her old school (these girls think she is a spy in an experiment).

Esther is lively but by no means perfect and she has to learn – especially through a shock tragedy and her being unmasked and having to face and accept herself.

This is a very cheerful film that will appeal to adolescent girls who can identify with Esther (rather than the conformist elitist girls) in her exuberance but also in having to face up to reality.

(The film was a great favourite in Berlin in the Kinderfestival in the section for 14 and over with four screenings.)

 

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