Combustible Celluloid Review - Blaze (2023), Del Kathryn Barton, Huna Amweero, Del Kathryn Barton, Julia Savage, Simon Baker, Yael Stone, Josh Lawson
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Julia Savage, Simon Baker, Yael Stone, Josh Lawson
Written by: Del Kathryn Barton, Huna Amweero
Directed by: Del Kathryn Barton
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/20/2023

Blaze (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dragon Bawl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Tackling its tough subject matter delicately and honestly, this poetic drama deftly uses its wobbly line between reality and imagination to explore rage and grief with compassion and humanity.

Twelve-year-old Blaze (Julia Savage), who lives with her father, Luke (Simon Baker), witnesses the brutal rape and murder of a woman in an alley. She agrees to be a witness at a trial, but the defense lawyer manages to make her look naive, and Luke decides to take her out of it.

She then begins attempting to process what she saw, retreating into her imagination, and into her friendship with a pet dragon called Zephy. She even befriends an imaginary version of Hannah (Yael Stone), the woman who died.

She has setbacks, as when she sees the rapist free on the street and melts down, and she is in and out of institutions, on and off medication. But with time, Blaze will find an inner strength she never knew she had.

A debut feature by Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton, Blaze relies heavily on teen Savage's performance, and the gamble pays off. She's ferocious, pulling off multi-faceted work that more experienced performers can only aspire to. When Blaze unleashes her rage or pain, it feels fully released. It's cathartic.

Barton gives equal weight to the father character. He's concerned, and wants more than anything to help, but doesn't know how.

The movie's flights of imagination are amazing, especially the huge practical Zephy puppet, as well as some of the dream spaces Blaze finds herself in. Barton also makes innovative use of cinematic techniques, choosing striking angles and assembling powerhouse montages.

Blaze is not an easy watch to be sure, but it would have been harder still without Barton's artistic touch. It's a subject better discussed than ignored, and this is a good place to start.

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