Grief and Loss, Counselled by the Melbourne Theatre Scene: The Five Provocations

By Annie Junor

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So many of us have experienced the grief and loss of an important person in our lives, be it friend or family. But maybe not so many of us have been counselled through trauma via surreal dance performances by members of the Melbourne Cabaret scene.

The first feature film from Melbourne director Angie Black, deftly combines performance art with narrative to produce a rare cinematic experience. Rightfully premiering to great acclaim at the 2018 Melbourne Queer Film Festival, The Five Provocations connects the lives of four peoples together through their individual experiences of sorrow.

Dispersed throughout the piece are the mysterious provocateurs of the title played by Melbourne cabaret performers, confronting each of the four main characters and pushing them to their own discoveries of self. In what seems to be their greatest moments of need, a performer (or performers) emerges to guide them through their grief, and these provocateurs refuse to be ignored. Yana Alana’s appearance as provocateur two has her emerge from bed, lingerie clad, rumple-haired and grubby-faced to follow Bridget around her apartment. She finally settles onto the kitchen island bench and cues the piano that tinkles in from no visible source, hollering about self-dependence and womanhood into a banana she has poised as a microphone, until an overwhelmed Bridget (Rebecca Bower) leaves her own home to get away from the performance. The third provocateur appears in a church, doing an interpretive dance with a plastic fish, supported by an old man playing the organ. The fourth provocateurs, literally credited as “Cunt Head 1” and “Cunt Head 2”, appear garbed in vaginal head pieces to slow dance with Clinton (Blake Osborn) in a bar as he contemplates his gender identity. They certainly are striking characters whose performances remain the most memorable parts of the film.

The dramatic, colourful and manic performances of the provocateurs force a total rupture of the film world. Often coupled with the use of non-diegetic music as a soundscape, the appearance of the provocateurs feels transcendental. Are they ghosts? Figments of imagination? Are they real in any way whatsoever? By thoroughly toying with the realism of each performance, Black leaves much to the interpretation of the viewer.

The female and queer characters of The Five Provocations are very much the powerhouses of the narrative, but the inclusion of the provocateurs, whilst at times distracting and remarkably pace-changing are what make this piece fresh and intriguing.

Catch The Five Provocations at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival, 7pm Saturday the 23rd of March at Kino Palace Cinema, followed by a Q&A with writer, director and producer Angie Black. Tickets available here.

Whitney Monaghan