TIFF 2019 Review: Foreign Coming-of-Age & Romance Films: DIRT MUSIC


It’s tempting to spend much of TIFF viewing primarily the bigger release films. After all, who doesn’t want the bragging rights at having seen films like Joker or Knives Out before anyone else?

At least once or twice a day, though, I tried to branch out into the lesser-known corner of the festival, to potentially discover some hidden gems. Some of these films that I eventually found contained some recognizable names, such as Ordinary Love and Dirt Music, yet they were still those that I might not have seen otherwise. They also, almost coincidentally, happened to fit into one of two recognizable categories: that of coming-of-age or romance. I’m very glad I sought them out.

Dirt Music (Gregor Jordan)

For my final review of foreign films at TIFF, we travel all the way to Australia, where Gregor Jordan has brought Tim Winton‘s novel to life. Taking place in the harsh outback of Western Australia, the film focuses on two individuals: they are the rebellious Georgie (Kelly Macdonald), who lives a lonely life married to a man she doesn’t love, and Luther Fox (Garrett Hedlund), an outsider with a mysterious past. When the two meet, they start an unexpected romance, that is, until Luther’s past seems to finally have caught up to him.

Dirt Music is amongst the more unusual love stories I’ve seen in some time. That is because, first and foremost, it’s not really about their love at all. It’s more a story of learning to move on, to forgive your past, and to embrace the chances of a future despite all that came before. Perhaps most strangely, we don’t even see the two lovers together for much of the film. Instead, we get the increasingly more erratic efforts of Luther branching further and further out into the harsh Australian climate, while Georgie desperately tries to find him before it’s too late. But each of their actions speak volumes.

More than anything, Dirt Music uses its setting as a reflection of the inner turmoil of its characters. While Luther tries to use it to escape, Georgie instead embraces it, attempting to traverse farther into it in order to save Luther from himself. It’s one of the more idyllic uses of a landscape in recent cinema.

Kelly Macdonald and Garrett Hedlund are also sublime in Dirt Music. Macdonald warmly portrays the arc of Georgie, who turns from loner to selfless savior over the course of the film, while Hedlund, doing his best Liam Hemsworth impression, is excellent as the silent, wounded Luther. It’s perhaps his finest performance to date.