Films That Romanticise Naarm/Melbourne

Naarm (Melbourne). It’s renowned for its graffitied laneways, exceptional coffee, and truly dismal weather (…you can’t have it all).

But the city holds an essence to it that’s less discernible, a quality that, though undeniable, remains hard to pin down. This is where the true magic of cinema prevails; with its power to hold a mirror up to the world, it allows us to take a step back and get a glimpse into just what makes Melbourne, well, Melbourne. As it happens, there are a raft of truly romantic depictions of Victoria’s much-loved capital on the big screen. 

If you are looking to capture the aesthetic splendour of the city look no further than Alena Lodkina’s drama, Petrol (2022). The film depicts a young woman as she grapples with an out-of-control friendship, the ensuing drama sends her on a cat-and-mouse chase around the city and its outer suburbs. Whilst undeniably stressful for our protagonist, it’s impossible not to marvel at her surroundings. Wide clean shots of Parliament Station’s gleaming escalators are juxtaposed with suffocating close-ups of grungy terrace-style architecture. This fusion of the ultra-sleek and the ultra-traditional celebrates the character of Melbourne’s endearingly muddled skyline. 

Of course, it’s not always about looks, proof of which lies in Paul Ireland’s 2017 comedy PAWNO. Now don’t get me wrong this film certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to Melbourne’s iconography. Set in Footscray, there is no shortage of graffitied alleys, low-rise shop fronts and soundscapes full of tram bells and pedestrian signals. However, this is not where the heart of the film lies, Ireland’s PAWNO romanticises Naarm not for its aesthetics but rather for its people

Following a day in the life structure, we are introduced to 12 diverse individuals all of whom are in some way linked to the main street’s pawn shop. This sliding doors-like film offers us a glimpse into the lives of the suburb’s inhabitants, and, while not always sunshine and rainbows, there is an obvious thread that links these eclectic characters together. It lies in their attitudes; they possess a sort of passion that exudes from what is otherwise an often-tough exterior. PAWNO, instead of relying on locale, personifies Melbourne by emphasising the assortment of personalities that shape the city’s culture.  

If you were to go back in time, you would find that a “people first” type of approach is a common thread in Naarm-based cinema. One only needs to look to the 1997 classic, The Castle to see this same sentiment; A working-class family fight tooth and nail to save their beloved home from demolition. Once again, this film is set in Melbourne but, what makes it undeniably Melbournian is its strong-headed, impassioned characters.  

It is easy to romanticise Melbourne’s laneway cafes, art-filled streets, and suburban charm, after all, they are hard to miss. Yet it seems that the films that romanticise Melbourne best are those that delve into the core of the city’s inhabitants. It may not be apparent in a single frame but, if done right, by the end of the film it will be unmistakable. 

By Olivia Jones

Header image via 8268513, Pixabay

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