With Australia’s marriage equality debate in full swing and our strongly religious prime minister, it is a wonder how Neil Armfield’s Holding The Man, a visually striking adaption of male love, companionship and controversy, has been handled in such a delicate manner.
So easily it could have been turned into a loud, political statement but the film treats the subject with care and
humour, showing its versatility as a love story for everyone. Holding The Man explores Conigrave’s 15 year relationship with John Caleo and their battle with the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Adapted from the awarding winning stage play of the same name, and based on the 1995 memoir, Holding The Man by actor, writer and AIDS activist Timothy Conigrave, the film doesn’t stray too far from the original material.
School theatre thespian Timothy Conigrave (Ryan Corr) first sees John Caleo (Craig Scott) at their Catholic School AFL match and immediately falls in love, following him around like a lost puppy dog. Using every opportunity to talk to him, Conigrave eventually sums up the courage to invite him over to dinner with a group of theatre friends. Sensing the strong attraction between the two, his friends play a game at the table where they must all “kiss” each other to cement their new friendships. Not long afterwards the two become a couple during a nervous phone call where Tim asks John to “go round” with him.
However, not everyone is supportive of their relationship; John’s devout Catholic father, Bob (Anthony LaPaglia) is strongly opposed to the couple throughout John Caleo’s life. Even in death, he refuses to acknowledge the relationship.
The film dances between moments, jumping from the 70s to the 80s and back again in a confusing manner. At points it is hard to tell where in the relationship we are, and if you don’t have a strong knowledge of a certain decade’s music (featuring hits from Dragon, Roger Hodgson’s Dreamer and Bronski Beat), these transitions become quite disorientating. It doesn’t help that we are introduced to the actors as over-grown and incredibly manly fourteen year olds and apart from their hairstyles changing; their faces remain unchanged throughout the movie. It isn’t until John Caleo falls sick, during the film’s climax, that we start to see an obvious change, with the actor undergoing a dramatic weight loss.
The actual scene transitions, however, are masterfully captured with strong lighting and clever angles; they help give insight into Conigrave’s imaginative and lustful mind. Keep in mind, that this is not a family film, containing several sex scenes and a dark and gritty King’s Cross nightlife, it is almost as graphically depicted as it is in the novel, leaving very little to the imagination. Holding The Man doesn’t shy away from any of Conigrave’s confessions and nor should it. It uses the book’s brutal honesty to every aspect of their lives as if we have been handed an unfiltered photo album of a long gone relative and told to peak inside and feel everything they felt.
The chemistry between Corr and Scott is so vital to the film, and both performances beautifully convey the dedication and love of the fifteen year long relationship. From Conigrave’s restlessness to Caleo’s unwavering morals, the casting of the character is one of the film’s strong points. Coupled with decorative and to-the-point cinematography, the film is visually strong and demands to be taken seriously.
As a fan of the novel, I resisted the urge to the cry as the film ended; however, I was surrounded by the sounds of a full house tearing up at a raw and honest portrayal of a gay relationship in the 1980s. Holding The Man is a bold Australian film and one that will break even the strongest of hearts.
By Lilliane Moffat
Compare Lilliane's review to another JMC Academy student Luke Erickson..