“An ongoing fascination of mine is the exploration of the theme of memory,” says Matthew Saville. “My theory is that film is akin to memory. It’s the perfect medium to explore the subject because you can move things around, you can change the order and change details while recurring motifs keep ringing out. Memories and film adhere to a similar kind of process.”
A Month of Sundays is the latest offering from the lauded Australian filmmaker. It’s the compelling tale of Frank Mollard (Anthony LaPaglia), a recently divorced, recently orphaned father disillusioned with his life and his job as a real estate agent. Frank is also having doubts about his own capabilities as a father to a sullen teenage son and about whether he, in turn, was a good son to his recently deceased mother. Frank receives a phone call from Sarah (Julie Blake), in his grief mistakes her for his mum and a friendship ensues. The result is a soul searching drama, scattered with moments of real humour.
From the intimate camera work to the storyline and the fact that Saville wrote, produced and directed the film, it certainly feels as though we’re being invited into a very personal piece of work.
“My dad was actually a real estate agent, though from a different school to those in the movie,” Saville tells me. “He wasn’t a shark. He had – has – values. I think he quit the industry as soon as they invented mobile phones! For years I kept saying to my dad, ‘I’m writing a film about you’, which I think he had misgivings about. Then he saw the film and said, ‘That nothing like me!’ I told him, ‘It’s not documentary dad you don’t even look like LaPaglia!’”
LePaglia very much nails the character, perfectly capturing Frank’s sense of loneliness and, at times, rudderless despair. I ask Matthew if his portrayal is how it was envisioned when writing the script.
“Actually, not really, no. But I was thrilled about that because it makes things far more interesting if you allow characters to evolve organically as minds meet. But having said that, we never had any disagreements about the character and we both acknowledged that was probably incriminating for both of us, how easy it was to understand Frank and his motivations! It’s a very man thing. It’s very common, that notion of being a little bit lost but perhaps not being able to digest it properly.”
Do you think many men are rather unsure of their roles in society?
“Yeah, that’s right. What do we to do? What are the rules? You get to a certain age and you start taking stock. You ask yourself how you got to this point. That was probably the most personal aspect of the film. The realisation I have had at various times of my life where I focus too much on the past without really acknowledging all of the great fortune that I’ve had.”
It is the dialling of a wrong number which sets the whole movie in motion. As with so much in life, a chance encounter can have dramatic and far-reaching effects. I ask Saville about his thoughts on serendipity and fate.
“I generally see myself as a secular humanist. But having said that, I sometimes find myself taken by thoughts which could be reasoned as almost spiritual. Even in quantum physics they’re now saying things that spiritual people have been saying for centuries about just how complex the universe is and whether or not there is even just one. There may possibly be millions of them. Some of this stuff that they’re discovering, it’s incredibly complicated and beyond most of our understanding. So to answer your question about serendipity, fate or coincidence, I do think there is something going on but I don’t know if it’s up to us to question it.”
The film is set in Adelaide, where Saville grew up. “It was interesting to back there, filming on the streets that I walked as a child,” he says. “I still have a large extended family there, and every single one of them was in the movie at some point, even if it was just as an extra. There are lot of images from my childhood, such as the guy in a baggy suit and briefcase sitting in an empty house having a sneaky cigarette out of the window.”
Much of the movie revolves around real estate, with Saville inspired by his first foray into the housing market. “You’d see religious iconography, handles in the bathroom and ramps at the front door and realise that these houses belonged to the elderly,” he says. “It occurred to me that they had probably been occupied by the same person for 50 years, that they very likely grew up there. I began to wonder how they felt about that.”
Poignancy laces the film, perhaps most evident when the leads visit Sarah’s former homes. “It was around 10 years ago that I actually did that thing of knocking on the door and asking if I could see the house I grew up in,” says the director. “I expected that no one would invite me into their home, that they would think it was weird, but they were fascinated. They wanted to know what it used to be like.”
Why did you want to do that?
“A mixture of nostalgia and sentimentality, which happens every now and again. Adelaide is such a beautiful city, but it’s also just like a big country town and when I was 18 I could wait to get out of the place. Now, I’d quite happily live there.”
A Month of Sundays opens in cinemas nationwide July 21