The last time I spoke to Kieran Darcy-Smith was regarding his Homebake Cinema project, showcasing the best short films from Australia and around the globe annually at each Homebake festival. With a combination of numerous acting credits in both film and TV, a handful of short films and music videos under his belt, the founding member of Australia's Blue Tongue collective is nothing if not passionate about the screen. And his debut feature film, Wish You Were Here, is, fittingly, a labour of love.
The idea for the film came from his wife Felicity Price, who co-wrote the film and has a leading role. “I was actively trying to write something that was a lot more achievable”, he says of an unspecified, eventually aborted larger project he was attached to beforehand. “[Felicity] was off in her room writing, and she wanted to create a story that she could play an active role in. All of our friends were getting mortgages and all that, and there was a sense of responsibility that came with that all of a sudden. With most of us there's still a longing to experience those years in your youth.”
From the outset, the crux of the film's plot – a person missing under mysterious circumstances – and the themes of generational malaise explored within seems to place the film in the languid, moody company of L'Avventura or Picnic At Hanging Rock. Rather, Wish You Were Here plays out as a tightly-wound thriller, and Darcy-Smith took his inspiration from real-life predicaments and anxieties rather than other films. He cites one missing persons case, now 20 to 30 years old, in particular as a jumping-off board for the story. “There was a story that we were both very aware of, a very good friend of ours was travelling in Thailand with her best friend and her best friend's partner, and one night her best friend's partner disappeared, and to this date no one knows what happened to them… Those grainy photographs you always see in police stations… 'have you seen this person', I've always been really fascinated about that.”
Price, with the ubiquitous Joel Edgerton, plays one half of a married couple whose equilibrium is tested upon arriving back in Sydney after the disappearance of their friend while holidaying in Cambodia. On his wife's contributions to the script, Darcy–Smith says, “She wanted to put this couple in this fish-out-of-water situation… It straight away offered such a rich opportunity for us to express ourselves and really examine ourselves and our friends and our world, but under the framework of a really compelling mystery/thriller story.”
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Like the Blue Tongue collective's Animal Kingdom, Wish You Were Here premiered at Sundance to enthusiastic reviews, and Darcy-Smith is mainly grateful that the positive reception has given him the go-ahead to tell more of the stories he wants to tell in a fickle industry where the chance make films in quick succession is rare. His next is an American project, though he intends to keep working in Australia. When asked if his fellow Blue Tongue filmmakers (including Animal Kingdom's David Michod and The Square's Nash Edgerton) follow any sort of ethos, his answer is characteristically humble. “Amongst the six directors who fall under that umbrella, there's a determination to make world-class films that can compete on an international level. We don't want to make just 'a good Australian film'.”
Screening in cinemas from Thursday 26 April.