Though only one of two woman-directed films in competition, Shannon Murphy‘s painfully endearing “Babyteeth” is making quite the impression on the Lido. The 76th Venice Film Festival welcomed the world premiere of the Aussie director’s directorial debut. Murphy is an award-winning director of theater, opera and television, diving into a heartfelt yet aching family drama for the big screen.
Debuting with her is Rita Kalnejais, as the film marks her freshman project writing the screenplay. First reactions for the comedy drama are positive as Murphy’s lead star Eliza Scanlen (“Sharp Objects”) receives adoration. The film also stars Toby Wallace, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder, Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn.
The synopsis out of Venice reads:
When seriously ill teenager Milla Finlay falls in love with smalltime drug dealer Moses, it’s her parents’ worst nightmare. But as Milla’s first brush with love brings her a new lust for life, things get messy and traditional morals go out the window. Milla shows everyone in her orbit—her parents, Moses, a sensitive music teacher, a budding child violinist, and a disarmingly honest pregnant neighbor—how to live like you have nothing to lose. What might have been a disaster for the Finlay family instead leads to letting go and finding grace in the glorious chaos of life. Babyteeth joyously explores how good it is not to be dead and how far we will go for love.
In an interview with Alissa Simon of Variety, Murphy talks about collaborating with first time feature writer, Rita Kalnejais:
I feel so fortunate to have been given her words for my first feature. She feels like my creative spirit animal. Her tone, observations of people, deep emotional intelligence, dark and unsentimental humor were a perfect match for my style and taste.
Variety’s Guy Lodge describes it as “the most youthful and surprising entry” in this year’s festival. He writes:
She nails a tricky assignment in her big-screen debut, playing both an ethereal otherness and a yearning, immediate, only-too-recognizable adolescent want in the cancer-stricken Milla — as befits a character who has both accepted that she’s not long for this world, and resolved to make herself a little more worldly within it before her time’s up.
Murphy and her actors from that point on become attuned to the melancholy inner lives of the people onscreen and the movie benefits immeasurably, with a series of concluding chapters that deepen our access to the characters’ emotional experience and make the loss they face genuinely affecting.
Read some of the first reactions out of Venice via Twitter:
Shannon Murphy's Babyteeth is dysfunctionally tender. Beautifully unsaturated and pulls on your heartstrings. This will touch a nerve on us all! One of the standouts of #Venezia76 pic.twitter.com/3ZQ9nBUnS2
— Dion Wyn 🏴 (@DionWynFfilm) September 4, 2019
— Lorenzo Ciorcalo (@rotovisor) September 4, 2019
— Radek Folta @Venezia76 (@rdfolta) September 4, 2019
speechless after Shannon Murphy’s debut feature BABYTEETH 😭
— Luke Hicks @ Venice76 (@lou_kicks) September 4, 2019
One attendee highlights the exceptional performance from Australian actress Essie Davis, who made a resounding impression in Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook:”
Loved The Babadook? #EssieDavis is truly exceptional in #Babyteeth, giving an award worthy performance that honestly broke me. Can't wait for you all to see her in the film. #Venezia76 pic.twitter.com/S61dNMhUNT
— David Opie @ Venice Film Festival (@DavidOpie) September 4, 2019