What about Sal Review?

Gerard O’Dwyer. What About Sal. Film still. 

What About Sal? is an Aussie charmer: a film about choices, empowerment, love and belonging.  It is whimsical and heartfelt, both real and aspirational.

Contemporary issues are faced head on, focussed on the right to choose how to live – even when burdened with a disability. Essentially, this is a feel good movie, taking us on an honest and inspiring journey. 

Sydney’s quaint inner suburbs of Glebe, Balmain, Kings Cross and Bondi are the backdrop. Kent Marcos’ cinematography enchants us with the big city of the everyday people that we get to know. The beauty of historic backstreets and the swathe of shoreline vistas frame its locals.

What About Sal. Film still.

Irrepressible characters with joie de vivre populate the film. What About Sal? guides us towards the compassionate turn that Aussie society is in need of today. An intimate song bleeds, then segues to the next scene, entwining the emotional states from two perspectives.

The soft sheen of John Jarratt’s direction is belied by his skilful use of dramatic transitions and poignant editing. Drawing on convincing performances from some very accomplished Australian actors, the cast convey the reality of their characters with skill and integrity.

Jarratt ensures a silken flow to the condensed storyline. Proof of his eloquent direction and film writing. Tightly edited, he doesn’t miss a heartbeat.  The demanding make-up demonstrates Cassie Hanlon’s not inconsiderable skill. The soundtrack is both original and moving. 

In the face of uncertainty, Sal is a source of strength for those who become his community of friends and propel him towards his goal. 

Gerard O’Dwyer in the titular role delivers a remarkable performance. His Sal Cole embodies boundless and committed love as he serendipitously taps into the kindness of some very unlikely people who aid him in his quest.

Through honesty, earnestness and his dire situation, he generates unexpected opportunities. The grit of his resolve and vulnerability is velveted by his naivete.

O’Dwyer won a best actor award for a Trop Fest performance in 2009 for Be My Brother and for The Interviewer at the Reelheart Film Festival in Canada in 2013. He is capably supported by skilled actors, especially John Jarratt, Kaarin Fairfax and Peter Hehir, all of whom deliver moving performances.

Actor/writer/director John Jarratt and Gerard O’Dwyer. Film still.

Hehir appeared on Australian screens in1976 in the role of Bert in The Sullivans.  Nominated as Best Supporting Actor in 1984 for Fast Talking, he returns after a 25 year absence to ably perform two completely divergent characters.

There is an emotional poignancy to Hehir’s roles.  In What About Sal? one likable character is aspirational and empathetic.

The other takes us from homelessness beneath Glebe’s light rail line towards the light of human understanding.  His work demonstrates both a study of humanity and the depth and richness of method acting.

Gerard O’Dwyer and Peter Hehir. Film publicity shot.

Kaarin Fairfax is warm and convincing – everything one would want in a mother.  Even in her last moments, her strength of love for her son forces others to rise to the challenge, which ultimately bonds them all. 

Sal’s love is an invitation to reach back and live one’s best life.

Cinema viewings have come and gone in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. What About Sal is currently screening to Wollongong and Melbourne audiences and is now being released across regional Australia. It opens in Perth on the 14th May. 

Kaarin Fairfax and Gerard O’Dwyer. Film still.

Do see this film while it’s on the big screen.  It is quietly ambitious, punching way above its weight. What About Sal? may well prove to be the juggernaut that creates a pathway to further releases from this coterie of talented Australian filmmakers.

Loretta Picone