Alex (Elena Mandalis) is now one of my favourite characters ever. She’s the kind of tough girl I would have been scared of at school. Greek, working class and a misfit, her only choice is to push back.
Alex and friend Vicki (Dora Kaskanis) smoke and drink and burn things. They talk of leaving their families to try and find Alex’s mum who walked out years before. Although the hurt for Alex is real, the chance of escape seems most important to Vicki, who gets more enjoyment from carving a school desk with a razor blade and threatening teachers than any school work. Over the course of a few days, their friendship shifts and fractures as they struggle to be honest about who they really are and what they desire.
This was director Ana Kokkinos’s first feature out of film school and she spoke at the screening as part of the Pioneering Women section of MIFF. Citing Ingmar Bergman as a key influence, in Only the Brave you can see a similar intense, hyperrealistic exploration of the human condition. Pivotal to this are the performances of Mandalis and Kaskanis who are immensely watchable and completely believable in their toughness and fragility.
Vicki and Alex could be teens of any era, suffocatingly bound by the expectations of their peers and with so little agency that vandalism and self-destructive behaviour is their only way to be heard. We can see the damage that results when teens are unable to be open about who they are or to speak up when they are being abused. Superficially, the social problem may seem to be the antisocial behaviour but the real tragedy is in the self-doubt and self harm.
I can’t help but think again of the damage being done by the removal of the Safe Schools program and the many hateful messages about sexuality and gender diverse children, teens and adults being shared in social media. Watch Only the Brave to see how much hasn’t changed in 23 years.
Have you seen this film? let me know your thoughts in the comments below.