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Sundance 2023 Review: Blueback – “Australian acting talent is out in full force”

A marine biologist heads home to be with her mother who has suffered a stroke and reflects upon their bonding over protecting the coastal reef from developers and irresponsible fishermen.

Scuba diving through the beautiful marine life is Abby who takes a coral sample to be examined onboard a research vessel floating above her on the surface; the study is interrupted as she receives a phone call notifying that her mother has suffered a stroke and has lost the ability to speak.  Abby has not visited her childhood home for a long time and reflects on her adolescent and teenage years that involved protecting a blue groper nicknamed Blueback and its underwater habitat from an unscrupulous businessman who aims to buy the family property to develop the area and in the meantime has no problem in overfishing the marine life.

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In establishing what is being fought for the opening sequence is a classic case of letting the imagery do the talking and the underwater photography is beautifully captured.  Considering the number of flashbacks and time shifts it would have been easy to get confused but clever cross-cutting such as the adult Abby looking out her childhood bedroom window at her younger self depart on a bicycle comes across as seamless.   Australian acting talent is out in full force with Radha Mitchell, Mia Wasikowska and Eric Bana being part of the cast while adolescent Abby portrayed by Ariel Donoghue really shines.

Thankfully prosthetics and CG makeup were bypassed and the older versions of Abby and Dora were achieved in casting different actresses.  On the other hand, Blueback is a clever hybrid of animatronics and CG augmentation.  Filmmaker Robert Connelly has made a risky decision to reveal the outcome of the family property right from the beginning but the narrative does not suffer as the real story is about the mother and daughter relationship, and how they developed a strong bond with each other through a mutual love for marine life.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place January 19–29, 2023, in person and online, and for more information visit sundance.org.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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