Much has been said in the press recently about writer-directors Tony Ayres personal and tragic affinity to The Home Song Stories, a wrenching ode to the female spirit, searing life lessons, and the hankering for melodramatics mired in swaths of emotions that operate on a continuously brutal gauntlet of negative energy. It exists first and foremost for Ayres cathartic benefit, a manifestation of self-worth and an aggrandised reconfiguration of memories that might principally explore an upbringing plagued with trauma with an emotionally damaged matriarch at its centre but its most graceful success derives from its scopes of displacement and identity.
A portentous romance between a chanteuse, Rose (Joan Chen) in Shanghai and an Australian sailor, Bill (Steve Vidler) brings them to Melbourne together with Roses daughter May (Irene Chen) and son Tom (Joel Lok). The relationship between the songbird and the bluejacket quickly disintegrate before the migrant family gets a chance to assimilate to their new home. Rose, played with a measure of instinctive zeal by Chen is armed with a green card and the sort of capricious exoticism that can claim men but never keep them, leading to an interchangeable but ultimate lack of a definitive older male presence in the lives of her children.
If the film comes across as remarkably non-judgmental of Roses irresponsibility, then its quietly missing a passionate response to the complexities of its showcase character an unreasonably detached reaction from a director quick to make his personal investment in the film a salient point, perhaps stemming from an overcompensation to view his subjects objectively.
As Ayres filmic counterpart, Tom bookends the film by reflecting on his upbringing, conveying a stablising and immutable gaze that renders the ensuing account of his tumultuous childhood weakened. His crafting of the vibrant 70s milieu, and the physical charting of the increasingly erratic Roses self-destructive tendencies show attention to details. But while he struggles to infiltrate a poetic significance into his stylistic choices, Chens performance transfigures ghostly elegance into inscrutable chords of sense memory for a different place and time.