Magic realism and the state of Australian cinema – An interview with David Caesar

An Interview with David Caesar, director of Prime Mover. By Simon Miraudo.

The next time you are at the trucking depot, make sure you ask those lone wolf drivers who their favourite Serbian director is. Don’t assume that a fascination in cinema is reserved only for city folk. In fact, when it comes to the world of truckies, don’t assume anything. This is the lesson I learnt when I met with Australian director (and former truck driver) David Caesar for a quick chat about his latest film Prime Mover, a love story set in the world of big rigs and bigger dreams. The quick chat evolved into a half hour discussion about amphetamine psychosis, magic realism and the current state of Australian cinema.

Prime Mover stars Michael Dorman as Thomas, a young pinstriper who dreams of one day owning his own truck. After falling in love with and marrying the gypsy-esque Melissa (Emily Barclay), he decides to fulfill his final desire and purchase a prime mover. However, Thomas finds himself in over his head as his new investment leaves him indebted to some crims. Through a mix of drama, romance and fantastical comic flourishes, Caesar examines whether or not love can survive under extreme circumstances.

“I’m interested in the idea of love stories, particularly about getting past that first bit. How do you sustain being in love with someone when things get difficult?”

Caesar worked as a truck driver shortly after leaving school as a means of earning money for film school. He quit after eight months on the job. His reasoning: “I just couldn’t stand it.” So why did he set his latest film amongst the tortuous world of the winding road?

“The experience of driving trucks, that whole world and that whole culture, I liked the balance between the macho stuff and the more feminine side. How the drivers listen to really sentimental, really emotional country music and the sort of delicate pin-striping (of the trucks). I thought: ‘gee, that would be a really great place to set a love story, because it’s really incongruous’.”

Caesar began writing the script in the late 1990’s, but left to focus on his other feature films Mullet (2001) and Dirty Deeds (2002). In 2004, he and producer Vince Sheehan revisited the Prime Mover draft and took to it with gusto.

I asked whether Caesar had ever considered telling his story straight; minus the visual flourishes that pepper the film. “No, that was in the first draft. One of the things I remembered from when I was driving trucks was that I used to go off in this pixie land and I had these weird days where I’d get in the truck in the morning, and I’d drive all day, and I’d get back to the depot at 6PM and I couldn’t remember anything of the day. I’d sort of be writing stories in my head and singing songs. I’d be going round winding roads on autopilot. And I found that weird magical state I was in interesting.”

“I was interested in taking the whole idea of taking someone’s emotional landscape and making it external without it being a voiceover. I was interested in that idea of making sure that there was magic in the world. I’m also really tired of seeing working class Australians working in this drab dead world. And the reality is that, well, it’s not necessarily a better world or a worse world than anywhere else, but there is magic in that world, and passion in the way the people see that world.”

As you may have already noticed, my job as interviewer was merely cursory. Caeser was more than willing to talk about his film as well as Australian film in general, whether I had been there to ask him questions or not. However, his willingness to discuss his craft (at length) is refreshing. In that spirit, I asked if he had considered amping up what he called ‘the magic’ in Prime Mover and perhaps turning the film into a full blown musical.

“To be completely honest with you, I would have liked to have another song up front. That would have been a good thing, because it takes a while for the audience to understand the visual language. I think cinema for me as an audience member works well with big strong contrasts. When you think it is going somewhere and then you get surprised by the style of it. Where you have really grounded performances and surprising visual flourishes, alongside it or amongst it.”

After discussing his influences (Serbian director Emir Kusturica and Francis Ford Coppola) and getting into some spoiler-related territory regarding the ending of Prime Mover, I realised that my allocated time had well and truly run out. But Caesar didn’t notice, or at least, didn’t care. Before wrapping up, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to ask an Australian director about his thoughts on the local film industry, especially as he has such a very Australian film on his hands. I admitted it’s a question he must have been asked a million times. He politely obliged, stating: “ask as many times as you want.”

So, David Caesar, have audiences turned on Aussie cinema? “No, I don’t think so. If someone can come up with a more Australian story than Sampson and Delilah, I’d like to see what it was. And I’m not entirely sure what Australian means anymore. To some extent, Samson and Delilah covers similar territory to my film, but the world it inhabits and the way the characters live in the world is really different. But I think even though mine has big fantastical elements in it, they both have an Australian truth to them.”

I suggested that Mao’s Last Dancer, the most successful local production of the year, was perhaps a less Australian film because of the way it depicts freedom as an exclusively American ideal; a notion Caesar rejected. “I think that Mao’s Last Dancer is about a migrant; it’s a refugee story and I think that’s a very current Australian story. I think the idea of what Australian is is really unclear, in terms of who we are as a people.”

So, any suggestions as to why some local films fail to gain recognition at the box office? “I think the thing that often turns people away are the films that have no hope. I think the idea of stories, not all narratives per se, but stories, is that they offer people hope. And I don’t think life necessarily gives people hope, and the reason we have stories is because life doesn’t. I suspect some audiences haven’t delivered on that front.”

However, Caesar also believes that very good, hopeful Australian films have been unfairly ignored by audiences. “You go out to the cinema, and there are 400 prints of Transformers, and this film that’s on in five places. And it might be a film they’d love, but you’ve got to actively search for them.”

Films he says to keep an eye on? The Spierig BrothersDaybreakers, the low-budget horror flick The Loved Ones, and, if its alright with you, Prime Mover.

“It is a love story. And I don’t think you can get a more universal narrative that a love story. And I also think that it’s the story about a struggle of hope and redemption, and I don’t think you can get a more international story than that.”

Prime Mover is currently screening in limited release.

One Response to “Magic realism and the state of Australian cinema – An interview with David Caesar”

  1. i suspect it won't do well because it looks like an australian film, just based on the photos. it doesn't surprise me that mao's last dancer has been doing well, it doesn't look like an australian film. it's not always about limited availability i just think there's a subconscious aversion.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: