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52 Tuesdays

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Secrets and lies. Sex. Change.Teen angst. Tortured relationships. Familiar themes, perhaps, but they’re explored through a unique lens in Closer Productions’ exciting new film, 52 Tuesdays.

Filmed in South Australia and premiering as part of the Adelaide Film Festival, the feature centres on teenager Billie and her mother Jane/James, who is transitioning from female to male.

What makes it so unusual – aside from the astonishing talent of young actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie – is the fact that it was filmed chronologically, as it was shot, every Tuesday over the course of the year.

Director Sophie Hyde and the crew from Closer Productions (Life in Movement, Stunt Love) made a rule at the outset that only what was filmed on each particular Tuesday would happen on that day in the film, with the actors given their lines just a week ahead as the story unfolded in real time.

On the screen, each day is introduced with a title, including brief footage giving context in terms of world events. At the beginning, I feared this may detract from the narrative flow, but the story is so compelling that this concern proved unfounded. In fact, the mechanism makes the audience feel it is sharing the journey with the characters.

Day one sees young Billie confronted by the news that her lesbian mother Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) plans to change gender and wants her to live with her dad, while she goes through the emotional and physical transition to become James. The disbelieving Billie is devastated that her mother had kept her plans secret, but somewhat mollified when the pair make a pact to spend time together each Tuesday.

With James going through hormone treatment, Billie exploring her own identity and sexuality, and both struggling with their unsettled relationship, the scene is set for a journey that is intense and often turbulent – especially when they each start keeping more secrets.

The script and performances are, at times, heart-wrenching. Herbert-Jane convincingly conveys the agony of gender dysphoria, while Cobham-Hervey’s portrayal of Billie leaves the viewer aching for the confused and rudderless teen; her close-up self-taped monologues are especially moving and impressive for such a young talent.

They are well-supported by the rest of the small cast, including Beau Travis Williams as Billie’s dad, Imogen Archer and Sam Althuzien as her new adventurous friends, and Mario Späte as James’ live-in brother, who provides a number of comic moments early in the film.

“What is authentic? Is this authentic?” asks Billie, as she ponders the question of identity.

52 Tuesdays is certainly authentic; it’s also absorbing.

Before last night’s world premiere of the film, Sophie Hyde thanked the SA Film Lab for its “gutsy” decision to invest in risky projects. We, the audience, should also be grateful that such projects retain, nurture and showcase film-making talent in this state.

This gem of a film is proof that a small budget does not necessarily inhibit creative genius; sometimes it actually inspires it.

The second Adelaide Film Festival screening of 52 Tuesday, on October 19 at Palace Nova Eastend, has sold out, but there is a standby queue. Closer Productions has also launched an app called My 52 Tuesdays, a worldwide participatory project where people can share a portrait of their lives over a year.

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