Friday, September 29, 2023

The New Boy: Politically, Spiritually and Religiously Australian

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“The New Boy” is a luminous work of art, cultural crossroads, faith, and magical realism.

During WWII, two Australian military officers captured an Aboriginal child fighting ferociously for freedom in the plains. They turn him to a nuns-run monastery in the middle of only God knows where they wanted to “westernize” him. In the remote facility, children were prepared to be incorporated into the workforce and produce goods for the international conflict.

Asan Reid plays extraordinarily well as “The New Boy.”

Newcomer Asan Reid plays extraordinarily well as “the boy with no name.” On the farm, everybody calls him New Boy. 

Even if no one trusts him, his noble inner force is ready to do good, including those who look at him differently and bully him. 

New Boy is spiritually connected to the world, to the land, and to all the creatures of the animal kingdom.

Sister Eileen is interconnected to the mystical side of the story. She is a liberal and unorthodox Catholic nun head of the convent. She is righteous and well-organized. Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett delivers an extraordinary performance as the spiritual leader of the peculiar and fascinating place. Her participation contains an extensive range of emotions, from leadership to vulnerability.

As this unique magical tale unfolds, the perfectly determined characters’ arc reflects the archetype and the plot. Their natural evolution and internal conflict, obsessions, goals, and adversities are easy to follow. 

The magic possessed by New Boy enlightens the story. The religious elements, for some, are symbols of inspiration, and for others, oppression, which makes anyone feel uneasy by the confrontation of both cultures visually and politically speaking.

“The New Boy” has a terrific cast, including Deborah Mailman as sweet Sister Mom and Wayne Blair as George, in addition to Cate Blanchett’s lead and Asan Reid as the new boy.

Other outstanding works where children are deployed from their natural environment and placed in strange places where they suffer distress and isolation are, last year, Oscar nominee narrative short produced by Alice Rohrwacher and Alfonso Cuarón “Le pupulle,” “Cándida” written by Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, Oscar nominee Nicaraguan feature “Alsino and the Condor.” “The Painted Bird” is about a Jewish kid roaming by himself in the middle of the conflict zone during WWII. “Tigers are not Afraid” is a Mexican feature where orphan children from the war on drugs battle for survival in a dystopian land. New Zealand’s internationally successful road movie “Hunting for the Wilderpeople is a comedy directed by Taika Waititi in which a troubled kid runs into the wild with his step-grandfather.

The director and cinematographer, Warwick Thornton (DP on “September of Shiraz,” “Samson & Delilah,” “Sweet Country”), was in charge of photographing “The New Boy” as well. 

Warwick Thornton presents a sumptuous and stunning visual work with vast, breathable landscapes and dramatic interiors. Chiaroscuros accentuate religious motives, giving the proper lighting balance to this remarkable project based on the director’s childhood experience.

“The New Boy” was shot in South Australia, in the same region where Cate Blanchett started acting in the 1996 Australian movie “Parklands,” produced by her husband Andrew Upton. Twenty-five years later, Cate returns to her homeland and stars in this new period drama produced by Dirty Films, her and her husband’s production company.

A difference between the 1994 French film “Little Indian, Big City” and the 1997 American remake “Jungle to Jungle,” “The New Boy” maintains the purity of the boy’s nature until his soul gets corrupted by the religiosity of a baptism in the Catholic faith. The magical realism presented in the film is more intrinsic than in 2015, “Little Boy” by Alejandro Monteverde (“Sound of Freedom”).

“The New Boy” adds voices of diversity and inclusion, as in many other essential Australian projects. The country tries to amend its colonial past with the aboriginal people to show an image of a harmonious blend of cultures worldwide.

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