Opal Dream

2006, Movie, PG, 85 mins


Set in the world of independent opal mining in southern Australia, FULL MONTY director Peter Cattaneo's adaptation of Ben Rice's novel Pobby and Dingan is a rare family film that's equally intelligent and moving, and wields a surprisingly dark edge. There's no centralized opal industry in the arid, southern town of Coober Peddy, just thousands of independently owned claims, each marked by the tall mounds of sand that dot the dusty landscape like so many soft, white ant hills. Each year, Coober Peddy attracts dreamers like Rex Williamson (LANTANA's Vince Colosimo), a former bartender who's come from Melbourne with his wife, Annie (Jacqueline McKenzie), and their two children, Ashmol (Christian Byers) and his 10-year-old kid sister, Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce), in hopes of making his fortune. But after a year of digging, Rex's claim has yet to yield much in the way of opals, and he and Annie are beginning to worry that Kellyanne has become unhealthily dependent on two imaginary friends she calls Pobby and Dingan. Rex and Annie try to humor Kellyanne by setting places for her unseen friends at the dinner table, until Rex decides he's had enough and devises a plan to separate Kellyanne from Pobby and Dingan long enough for her to make a few flesh-and-blood friends at a holiday barbecue. That morning, Rex offers to take Pobby and Dingan to the dig with him as a special treat, but when he returns home that night, Kellyanne insists that he's accidentally left them behind and demands they all drive back to the mine. But it's no use: According to Kellyanne, Pobby and Dingan are nowhere to be found, and while pretending to look for the missing creatures, Rex is caught poking around the mine of ornery prospector who accuses him of being the worst thing a man could be called in these parts: a "ratter," someone who steals from another's mine. Knowing the truth is too absurd to be believed, Rex hopes the whole "ratter" incident will soon blow over, but he and his family are quickly ostracized from the community, and Annie is let go from her job at the local grocery. Worse, Kellyanne has begun to pine for her missing friends, and falls so seriously ill that she needs to be hospitalized. In an attempt to save his sister by "finding" Pobby and Dingan, Ashmol allows himself to be drawn into her strange fantasy world, place far richer and dream-filled than the one outside his doorstep. Cattaneo's script cannily juxtaposes Kellyanne's dreams of with those that fill the air of places like Cobber Peddy, where hope is as thick as the desperation, and suggests that there's a point beyond which any dream can become destructive. The film's sweetness derives primarily from the relationship between Ashmol and his unusual sister, and draws much of its richness from the unfamiliar and fascinating world of opal prospecting. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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