Transport back to your first taste of romance in the deeply moving new film Of An Age
Goran Stolevski's Australian love story is an exceptional new addition to the queer cinema canon
Queeries is a column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
Hollywood has offered an unusually fruitful (pun maybe intended) winter for movies heavily catered toward queer audiences. From M3GAN and A Knock at the Cabin to 80 For Brady and Magic Mike: The Last Dance, it's certainly been nice to have so many viable options at multiplexes, especially during a time of year that's usually reserved for the worst movie Marvel has on its slate that year or the latest vehicle featuring Liam Neeson (or whoever) on a hyper-masc mission.
But as much as there is to appreciate about Hollywood's recent efforts (I genuinely quite liked three of those four noted movies!), if you need a reminder of how much more satisfying true queer cinema can be, look no further than the Australian import Of An Age, which is being released in North American cinema this week. (While you're at it, you can also get that reminder via Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont's Oscar-nominated Close, which has been out for a few weeks now.)
Of An Age is the second feature from Macedonian-Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski, and its release is the culmination of a pretty remarkable year for him. Last January, his spellbinding directorial debut You Won't Be Alone premiered at Sundance to raves, and would eventually become Macedonia's submission to this year's Academy Awards.
While that film was set in 19th-century Macedonia and centres on a body-switching witch, Stolevski would very soon after offer us Of An Age, a boy-meets-boy romance set in 1999 Melbourne. The film follows Kol (Elias Anton), a closeted teenage Serbian immigrant living in Australia who has an intense 24-hour romance with Adam (Thom Green), the brother of his ballroom dance partner (Hattie Hook).
Premiering last August as the opening night film of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Of An Age shows Stolveski is a new queer force to be reckoned with on the international film scene, making two fantastic and very different films in an impressive amount of time (Alone and Age were shot within a year of one another ... during peak pandemic times). And while the subject matter of the two may be very different, both are deeply moving films that ultimately speak to what it means to be human — in Of An Age's case, specifically, what it means to be a human experiencing romance for the very first time.
Stolveski actually wrote Of An Age first, during one of the lockdowns.
"I was stuck at home and trying to kill time by writing as many stories and reading as many stories as possible, just to preserve as much of my sanity that was left," Stolveski tells me over Zoom. "And I was reading a book late at night by Lauren Groff. It was a collection of short stories called Florida. And in one of those stories, there's a high school boy who goes to his first party. I was reading it and all these memories of going to my own first party started floating back to me."
Stolveski said the memories were vivid not in a specific recollection of what happened at that party, but how they made him feel.
"Just like that feeling of what my brain was when I was at 16 or 17, and just how overwhelmed I was by everything around me," he says. "Not necessarily in a negative way, but in how I was thinking about life and just what the soul of who I was then."
"It's a time in my life that I never really think back to. I was very absent from it when it was happening. High school, for me, was like what you have to go through until actual life starts. But suddenly it was coming back in such a vivid way. And in the context of who I am now, thinking back to that kid, it just kind of left me a bit dumbstruck."
It also left him inspired.
"Dialogue started flooding in, so I just rushed out of bed and started typing it all up as quickly as I humanly could," he says. "Like 60% of the script was probably written in that one mad rush. And then it just went from there."
"You know, the events [in the film] aren't autobiographical, but the feelings are. [I was] trying to see if there was a way to connect to something universal so that it wasn't just a movie for me — so that other people from other parts of the world and could connect to something at the core as well."
Other people from other parts of the world will get that chance as Of An Age starts find its way to international theatres, beginning with Canada and the United States on February 17th.
Even if it's reductive, I feel compelled to recommend it as "an Australian Weekend" or "a gay Before Sunrise," not just because of the timeline of its narrative (like those films, the story mostly takes place over one day), but because it's also worthy of standing alongside them. It's also a comparison that Stolveski himself seems happy to have made.
"I saw Before Sunrise when I was ten or 11," he says. "And I think that was the first love story I encountered. I was like, 'So this is what life is going to be like? This is what love and romance is? One day I'm going to meet Julie Delpy on a train in Europe. This is just how it happens.'"
"And then obviously life does not work like that. But I think that I was trying to figure out if there's a way to capture a feeling as romantic [as that film], but in the most anti-romantic, drab setting that ever existed, which is suburban Melbourne in 1999. You know, where Julie Delpy doesn't just hop off the train. That's what I was chasing in a sense, and partly unconsciously, when I was first writing it. The Before trilogy, which I love, became like a reference point in a sense."
Stolveski says that when people ask him what the underlying meaning of the film, or any of his films, he tells them that "if you can say it in words, it should be a book."
"I think a movie needs to be something with a feeling that can only be captured in frames and sounds," he says. "So for me, it's a feeling that I know — like, I can feel it in my chest. And then I hope that it's transplanted into the person watching it."
"The most moving thing that happens is when people come up to me in tears at the end of the film and say that I've captured their story. Inevitably a lot of them are other queer men, but also a lot of straight women, whether women in their twenties or their seventies, from all kinds of backgrounds. And that makes me feel like they've got the exact same feeling from it. And that feeling is going to live on in other people who watch it later."
You can help that feeling live on by watching Of An Age when it's released in theatres across North America on February 17th.