Introduction: "The Plains"

"I wonder if this is why I am drawn to film—its unique ability to capture passing time, or as Bazin put it, to 'mummify' change."
David Easteal

David Easteal's The Plains is now showing exclusively on MUBI starting April 12, 2023, in most countries in the series Debuts.

Andrew and I met while working together some years ago at a legal center in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. We found out we lived near each other, and Andrew started to drive me home. Through our discussions, and in hearing Andrew’s calls to his mother and wife Cheri, I learned about his life and a friendship developed between us. The sky and light can be spectacular in Melbourne at certain times of the year, particularly the westward sky at the end of the day. I recall being very struck by the visual contrast between the thousands of people moving together on the road, their alienation from each other, and the great celestial beauty above. Our commutes home during that time formed the basis for the film.

I tend to be drawn to repetition in art, and the subtle variations that can occur within repeated elements. I am interested in how we build routine and structure into our lives—working, driving in the same lane, parking in the same spot, taking the same route home, making the same phone calls. Perhaps repetition allows a sense of control, when really so much is not in our control. At the time of conceiving the film, I was reflecting on the Lumière brothers’ work, including Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895). I was thinking about how close of business is now commonly experienced in the car-commuting culture of most sprawling Australian cities, compared to the hurried workers leaving the Lumière factory by foot more than a century ago. In a traditional road movie, the car is a machine of liberation on the open road. Instead, I wanted to focus on the car as an integral part of the solitary quotidian rhythm of the work commute. 

Throughout my life I have grappled with the idea of impermanence. Even while experiencing beautiful moments, I seem to always be aware that they will soon pass. In a way, I wonder if this is why I am drawn to film—its unique ability to capture passing time, or as Bazin put it, to “mummify” change, in defense against the passage of time. The ability to record time passing often seems to be diminished in favor of narrative progression in film. I wanted to give this aspect a greater weight; to film uninterrupted in real time, and in the edit to essentially construct with blocks of time. I was interested in the sensation and rhythm of the passing of time—certain parts of the film seem to pass slowly, while others pass rapidly. Meanwhile, the digital clock visible on the dashboard highlights the uniform progression of a forward-moving time.

The film depicts a period in Andrew and Cheri’s middle age, during which their parents pass away. It is an age previously explored by Seamus Heaney, who used the metaphor of the roof being taken away from the house following the death of his parents—the sudden exposure to the infinite above and his own mortality, there no longer being anyone else living “above” or before him. This excerpt from “Lightenings,” taken from Heaney’s collection Seeing Things, seems to speak generally to themes in the film, and resonates for me directly with the image of Andrew and Cheri alone on the titular plains of the western region of Victoria:

And after the commanded journey, what?
Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown.
A gazing out from far away, alone.

And it is not particular at all,
Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round.
Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind.

Sadly, I have few photos of our small cast and production crew taken during the year that we filmed. The photo below shows Andrew, myself, cinematographer Simon J Walsh, and sound recordist Steven Bond. Cheri, who assisted on the other end of Andrew’s phone calls, is missing from this shot. We did not have permission to film in the car park and were wary of attracting attention, so we waited in this nearby second carpark until shortly before 5:00 p.m., when we moved to location. While waiting, Andrew and I would go for a walk, usually to the shore of a nearby pond, and discuss the structure of the conversation to be filmed that day. We all became quite close, and I hope the growth of our friendship over that time is reflected in the film. Looking at this photo now it already seems like a long time ago!

Thank you to MUBI for presenting the film, I wish you a good screening. 

April 2023.

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