Review: Love, Lust & Lies
Love, Lust & Lies
Directed by: Gillian Armstrong
Starring: Kerry Carlson, Diana Doman, Josie Petersen
Distributed by: The Big Picture Company and Spirited Films
Gillian Armstrong’s documentary begins with the promise that working-class Adelaide teenagers Kerry, Josie and Diana made to each other in 1976: that they’d be absolutely honest. This is the fifth film Armstrong has made with her subjects, who are now aged around 47, and it turns out there’s plenty they’ve kept from her – and even from themselves.
Love, Lust & Lies is an warm, impeccably structured documentary portrait in which Armstrong’s longstanding rapport with her subjects results in some startlingly intimate revelations.
The first half-hour is effectively a recap: an edited collection of highlights from the previous four films for viewers new to the series. Smokes and Lollies (1976) was a short film about what it’s like to be a teenager. I found this footage exciting to watch because it showed an Australia that’s largely vanished: pinball parlours and milk bars, green eyeshadow and crochet bikinis; unironic ockerism; sharpie boys on motor scooters.
Armstrong revisited them at age 18 in the AFI Award-winning Fourteen’s Good: Eighteen’s Better (1980), and found them startlingly grown up. She returned when they were 26 and Kerry was about to be married (Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces, 1988) and in 1995 she turned her focus to their now-teenage children (Not Fourteen Again).
But it’s what Armstrong does with her archival footage that’s really interesting. While at first it’s just there for backstory, Armstrong recontextualises her protagonists’ previous words to reveal the secrets that have shaped their lives. Why might Josie have had to send herself flowers in hospital with her first baby? Why did Diana rebel against her family as a teenager, and what’s the secret she and her husband hid from their son Beauh? Thanks to Armstrong, these issues sparkle in crystal-clear hindsight.
Love, Lust & Lies is also fascinating because Armstrong also interviews the younger generation, some of whom now have kids of their own. It can get a bit confusing trying to figure out whose kids are whose, but it’s truly inspiring to see how every parent muddles through making mistakes and sacrifices, but always desperately wanting the best for their kids. (There’s a wonderful shot of Kerry’s face shining with pride as her teenage daughter sings some dire Taylor Swift song in a local talent show.)
But while the film highlights the universal human condition, I feel quite strongly that it’s also about class in Australia. Many arthouse movies in Australia disproportionately humanise the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, treating the working class with kitchen-sink sentimentalism, boofhead affection or cartoonish menace. But Love, Lust & Lies is both unequivocal and compassionate in showing how people’s choices are circumscribed, and their aspirations shaped, by their socioeconomic circumstances.
Interestingly, the three protagonists don’t seem to have maintained their friendship over the years; but then their lives have taken very different paths. Kerry’s is perhaps the most comfortable and conventional; Josie finally appears settled after many restless years. For me, Diana was the most compelling figure: full of brittleness and bravado. Hers was the history that stayed with me, and the future I’d most like to see on film.
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