The blush of first love can be electrifying, but also completely confusing. There’s a way in which someone’s smile (or body – smell, even) can conjure up disturbing emotions that feel visceral and unintentional. Writer-director Goran Stoljevski’s sophomore effort, “Of an Age,” spends the majority of its runtime capturing a blush, and then pushing audiences and characters alike to revisit it with an overzealous desire for hindsight. The Australian production is a warm-hearted gem, pulsating with lustful tenderness (and tender lust) as it sketches what first love can feel like and asks if it can ever endure.
The year is 1999. It’s a gorgeous summer day and Cole (Ilyas Anton) is getting creepy. The 17-year-old looks forward to what promises to be a lucky day at the Australian dance finals, only to have his morning thrown into chaos by a frantic call from his dance partner Ebony (Hattie Hook). After waking up to a late-night turn in who knows where and scraping together barely enough change to make a phone call, Ebony informs Cole that she might not make it to the finals. That is, unless he asks one person he won’t contact: his older brother Adam (Thom Green).
Once Adam agrees to pick up Cole and go where Ebony is, Stolevsky’s film begins in earnest. The frantic, frenzied energy that characterizes our entry into this North Melbourne-set drama (with frantic editing punctuated by Hook’s high-pitched dramatic delivery) mellows as soon as Adam and Cole are alone in the car. They’re not a pretty sight, but when Ebony pulls up and sits in the back seat, it’s clear that the two young men have formed a connection that no one expected—especially given the way Cole first froze when he heard Adam’s words. Her ex was actually male. Cole may be wearing a dance dress with a full plunging neckline, but you can tell from Adam’s candid reaction that he’s not entirely comfortable with what his eyes find whenever they land on Adam’s face (or arms, or neck or…). .
It’s a testament to Stolevsky that once his film feels like familiar territory (there’s a coming-of-age story and a coming-out story unfolding in tandem), he continues to find ways to surprise us. There’s the setting and period, of course, which allowed the Macedonian-born and Australian-raised writer-director to revisit his own sexual awakening, and which help set “Of an Age” apart from similarly sounding films. But there’s a constant focus on the fleeting nature of Cole and Adam’s attraction to each other, and the way Stolevsky plays around with the power dynamics of their budding relationship. There is kinship but also mentorship. Brotherly care so easily spills over into sexual excitement that it can take your breath away.
And then there’s the time jump. In 1999, “Of an Age” took place over one day Stolevsky has the luxury of slowing down his pace to really let us witness how Cole opens up to Adam and finds himself swept up by this bold, confident gay man. Have dreams (well, plans, actually) to move abroad and see the world. Their conversations, about literature and about cinema, are almost penetrating because of how mundane they feel, the way they seem to be building the foundations of something that will never be built. Both Anton (with his adorably nervous gaze) and Green (with his smug arrogance) carry the weight of what Stolevsky is creating here. Shot with an eye for a warm and inviting intimacy (courtesy of Matthew Chuang’s cinematography), “Of an Age” isn’t a romance with a capital “R” (though I suppose Cole and Adam will always be in Melbourne) or a wink- And -you’ll miss it (a connection for them that lasts).
That’s because “Off An Edge” introduces us to the two of them more than a decade later. Arriving in Melbourne after all these years, the two are forced to consider what their meeting meant all those years ago and what their reunion might mean in the future. Equal parts sultry and sensual, soulful and gentle, Stolevsky presents us with a sultry romantic drama that sees that first blushing crush not as a passing moment in need of remembering but as a living memory that can throb and ache because it precisely never left you. did not go