Thursday, November 22, 2018

NYADIFF ’18: Last Drinks at Frida’s (short)

Frida’s is not the most welcoming jazz club in the world, but it will serve Indigenous patrons. There are not a lot of nightclubs in post-war Sydney that will, so it would be a shame if this shell-shocked soldier found himself banned from the premises. He really hasn’t done anything wrong, but he knew Frida way back when, making things awkward in Bjorn Stewart’s short film Last Drinks at Frida’s, which screens as part of the 2018 New York African Diaspora International Film Festival.

He served honorably, but the unnamed WWII soldier has a severe case of PTSD compounded by the racism and disinterest of Australian society he returned to. Frida’s was one place he could go to drown his sorrows—and the music is good. Nobody knows his name there, but he knows Tilly de Frida, the proprietress and main vocal attraction. They were both students together at one of the notorious schools for young Indigenous Australians. She really did not know him then either. He has always been shy and has become even more withdrawn. Yet, something about the man in uniform draws Frida’s eye.

Although Last Drinks is more about social criticism than musical numbers, it makes perfect sense to set it in a jazz club. It also sounds swingingly era-appropriate, thanks to the music of Charlie Chan, who also leads the on-screen combo backing up Frida. It is a nice group, featuring Chan on piano, Andrew “Jock” Robertson on reeds, Ashley Tuner on bass, Andrew Dickeson drums, and Ursula Yovich providing Frida’s smoky vocals.

Mathew Cooper and Dalara Williams develop some rather poignant chemistry together as the soldier and the songbird. Cinematographer Roger Lancer also gives it the sort of moody, noir look that perfectly suits a film set in a jazz club. It looks good and sounds great. Despite the hardboiled trappings, it ultimately makes its points with a relatively light touch, which is a credit to Stewart and screenwriter Kodie Bedford. Very highly recommended for fans of jazz dramas and Australian cinema, Last Drinks at Frida’s screens tomorrow (11/23) and Saturday, December 1st, as part of the Aboriginal Australia shorts block at this year’s NYADIFF.