AFI Quick Quiz: Kestie Morassi

Kestie Morassi The Adelaide-born Kestie Morassi is a familiar face in Australian film and television, having worked steadily for more than ten years in the business, yet she’s still a little bit mysterious. Her television roles have ranged from Miss Sharlow in the ABC’s The Saddle Club to the kinky-but-sweet brothel madam Natalie in Foxtel’s Satisfaction, and she has appeared on pretty much every recent Australian drama you care to think of, from The Secret Life of Us, to Underbelly, and from Offspring to Wilfred. Morassi has appeared in films including Dirty Deeds, Travelling Light, The Illustrated Family Doctor and Strange Bedfellows.
 
Morassi’s real breakthrough, however, came with the role of the terrorised backpacker Kristy in Greg Mclean’s international hit horror film Wolf Creek (2005) – a performance that earnt her an AFI Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Morassi is currently starring in Blame, a psychological thriller shot and set in Roleystone, outside of Perth. Written and directed by Michael Henry, and also starring a cast of other up-and-coming young actors, Blame sees Morassi playing a grieving young woman who teams up with the friends of her dead sister in order to take revenge on the man they blame for her death.
 
With her wide blue eyes and mischevious dimple, Morassi is a talented and versatile actress with a winning warmth and vulnerability on screen, and an obvious lack of pretention. Here are her answers to the AFI Quick Quiz.
 
Kestie Morassi in Blame

Kestie Morassi as a grieving sister intent on revenge in Blame.

The AFI Quick Quiz: Kestie Morassi

Q. What is your favorite word? Oil.

Q. What is your least favourite word? Wrong.

Q. What turns you on? Trees.

Q. What turns you off? Cinnamon.

Q. What sound or noise do you love? A crowd cheering in the distance.

Q. What sound or noise do you hate? A motorbike down a narrow street.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Astrophysics.

Q. What profession would you not like to do? Anything 9 to 5.

Q. The last film or DVD you watched? Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

Q. The film that changed you and why? Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is the first film I remember seeing as a child and realising what a film is, and what it can do. I recognised how the actors worked together to tell a story and it occurred to me that a film could be a way to say something important.

Q. Your guilty television pleasure? Top Model.

Q. Complete this sentence: The thing I love about working in the Australian film and television industry is… the genuine sense of camaraderie.

Q. Three key mentors that have inspired you?

  • My first drama teacher Michelle Williams. She gave everything to her students and recognised people’s strengths, encouraged you to love yourself and be an individual. She was also an inspiring actress to watch perform.
  • Bryan Brown. He was integral in helping me to be cast in Dirty Deeds, my first break into film. He and David Caeser recognised something in me that I always felt was there but I just needed a chance to show it. Bryan Brown is a huge inspiration to me also because he’s obviously an icon, but has remained completely down to earth, has a huge heart and is always himself. What you see is what you get and I admire that.
  • My Mum. My support, my angel, my life, my love. 

Blame is currently in limited release. You may want to check out our Reviews Wrap of the film.

Editor’s Note: Just for fun, here’s a gorgeous red carpet photo from the AFI Awards archive, featuring Kestie Morassi with fellow leading ladies from Satisfaction. If you haven’t seen her as the latex-loving madam with a heart of marshmallow, it’s worth a look. In my opinion, this is Morassi’s funniest, naughtiest and sweetest performance to date.

Leading Ladies from Satisfaction at 2008 AFI Awards

Leading ladies from Foxtel's Satisfaction on the red carpet at the 2008 AFI Awards, L-R: Madeleine West, Diana Glenn, Peta Sergeant, Kestie Morassi (in silver) & Alison Whyte.

Reviews Wrap

Here’s a quick taste of reviews of current release Australian feature films Blame and Sleeping Beauty. Please note these do not reflect the views of the AFI. We’re aiming to represent opinions and views from various sources, and you’ll make up your own mind, of course!

Blame

Blame Key Art AustraliaReleased nationally in Australia on 16 June by Pack Screen, Blame premiered at the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival (where it was a MIFF Premiere Fund film) and screened to some acclaim at festivals including Toronto and Chicago. Filmed and set in the foothills of Perth, the story centres on a group of young vigilantes intent on wreaking vengeance for a sexual betrayal.

Directed by Michael Henry, and produced by Ryan Hodgson, Melissa Kelly and Michael Robinson, Blame stars a raft of fresh but familiar talent, including Sophie Lowe, Kestie Morassi, Damian de Montemas, Simon Stone, Mark Leonard Winter and Ashley Zukerman. Reviewing the film as part of the TIFF 2010 lineup, Twitch’s Todd Brown was particularly impressed by the actors, and by the opening sequences, but writes that the film is “[l]ong on cast and concept but slightly short on execution,” and that it “never quite manages to reach its full potential or really cash in on its premise”.  

Megan Lehmann, writing for The Hollywood Reporter (login required), calls Blame “a compact little thriller set in a remote corner of the Australian bushland,” and predicts that it will be a good calling card for its cast and crew. She singles out the stark piano-heavy score and DOP Torstein Dyrting’s lingering camera-work for special mention, with the only real criticism being a “generally tight script  [that] stumbles in the second act as the characters chase their tails for a while.”

Simon Miraudo, over at Quickflix sees in the film “brief flashes of brilliance that evoke Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie,” though ultimately, he argues, “it feels like a sincere tribute to Hitchcock and Christie, but not a modern-day companion piece.” Miraudo singles outs out performances by Damian de Montemas, Sophie Lowe and Kestie Morassi for special mention. Also seeing Hitchockian references in Blame, Peter Galvin (SBS Film) commends the way the audience’s sympathies are simultaneously engaged by both the victim and the perpetrators.

Leigh Paatsch, reviewing for the Herald Sun gives Blame three stars and writes that “[f]irst-time writer-director Michael Henry makes a little go a long way throughout, pushing an impressive young cast through a twisty, turny maze most viewers will be happy to get lost in.” Both David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz from the ABC’s At The Movies are similarly impressed with the film, agreeing with a three and a half star rating, and praising it as an intelligent low budget film that “punches above it’s weight.” 

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty key art AustraliaSleeping Beauty, an ‘erotic fairytale’ about a young woman, Lucy (Emily Browning), who sells her body in a particularly passive way, is shaping up to be one of those films that is dividing critics and audiences. This divisive tendency was evident at the film’s premiere screening in Official Competition at Cannes 2011 (you can see a table summarising critical responses from French critics at Cannes here), and the vigorous debates here at home continue the tendency. In fact, as Glenn Dunks argues, writing for Onya Magazine, perhaps “the discussion it has elicited from critics and audiences (domestic and international alike) is reason enough for [the film’s] existence.”

One of the most interesting and lateral responses to Sleeping Beauty is this one by Matt Riviera on his blog A Life in Film, where he engages not only with the film but with its critical and audience responses. (Riviera has meticulously compiled a table of Sydney critics’ responses to 2011 Sydney Film Festival offerings, including Sleeping Beauty, and you can see that film’s divisive effect evident in the chart here.)  

Anticipating that many viewers will be alienated and unmoved by the somewhat clinical tone of the film, Riviera notes that “[w]e are not encouraged to relate as much as to reflect on our position as voyeurs. In other words, we can look but cannot touch.” He goes on to offer a fascinating and unexpected reading of  the film as a metaphor for Australia’s passive relationship to its own beauty and international exploitation.

Over at Cinema Autopsy, Thomas Caldwell gives a more conventional review. Awarding Sleeping Beauty four stars, Caldwell admires writer/director Julia Leigh’s “well tuned sense of visual storytelling” and notes that the film’s cinematography (Geoffrey Simpson) and production design (Annie Beauchamp) evoke the work of Kubrick, Lynch and Greenaway. Caldwell also praises the “meticulous and minimalist sound design by Sam Petty”, and the “highly measured and controlled performance” of Emily Browning in the lead role.  Anticipating other viewers’ criticism of the film, he writes that “[o]n face value Sleeping Beauty may appear to be simply an arty exercise in film style and as a result will no doubt perplex and frustrate some audiences, particularly those expecting something more erotic or blatantly emotionally charged. However, like Lucy it contains something dark, complex, mysterious and, indeed, beautiful deep down below the surface.”

David Stratton, reviewing for At The Movies, called Sleeping Beauty “a handsomely made and quite haunting first feature” and gave the film three and a half stars. Stratton argued, however, that “while it’s often very impressive it’s also very cold and detached.” Andrew L. Urban is another such viewer, frustrated at what he perceives as the film’s coldness. At Urban Cinefile he writes: “I salute the unique vision, but I feel cheated that I felt so little emotion in a film that has such vast emotional potential.” Writing in the same space, Louise Keller declares Sleeping Beauty “a mesmerizing film and a stunning debut for Leigh, although the ending disappoints and leaves us adrift.”

Jim Schembri, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald gives the film backhanded praise, arguing that “the one thing you can’t say about Sleeping Beauty that you can about many other Australian arthouse films, is that it is boring. If anything, there’s something mesmerising about Lucy’s journey and in Browning’s deliberately passive, low-key performance, even if the whole shebang leads to frustration.” Leigh Paatsch, in the Herald Sun is not so kind, describing it as “prentious” and an “arthouse snoozer”. Variety’s Peter Debruge is similiarly unimpressed, criticising the film’s “frustratingly elliptical feel and lack of character insight.”

Over at the Guardian however, Peter Bradshaw seems to gain far greater insight into the “emotional seriousness” of Lucy’s character, praising Emily Browning’s “fierce and powerful performance.” Bradshaw also calls the film a “technically elegant” and “assured debut”, nevertheless finding it to be “no more than the sum of its parts”.

Clearly, the debate will continue to rage. What did you think?

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