‘Of an Age’ Writer-Director Goran Stolevski Seeks to Tell Queer Stories of Evocative Power
The most tragic and piercing romances are the ones that leave behind the ghostly question of what could have been. Goran Stolevski’s latest feature, the evocative “Of an Age,” is a stark, eloquent film about two young men who meet in the late ‘90s and have instant chemistry. But fate can be cruel and time is tragically against them. Sustaining the ephemeral tone are two wonderful lead performances. Elias Anton is Kol, a 17-year-old Serbian immigrant in Australia who is gay but remains in the closet, even to himself. He receives a distraught call one day from his friend, Ebony (Hattie Hook), who is hungover and stranded in an unknown area. To get to her, Kol contacts her brother, Adam (Thom Green). A car ride with both young men turns into a revelatory experience. The older, grittier Adam is into literature while the younger Kol pretends to know more than he actually does. Adam is also openly gay, which seems to startle Kol, but only because he himself is so inhibited about his true longings. The attraction is gradual but intense. Unfortunately, Adam is leaving the next day to study in Argentina.
“Of an Age” forms part of Stolevski’s unique, growing body of work that explores gender, queerness and working class life through eclectic styles. His last film, “You Won’t Be Alone,” was a fantasy set in 19th-century Macedonia, about a witch who could switch genders and ages. This new film has a more intimate ambiance, fueled by the director’s personal memories and identity as a queer artist. With a grainy cinematography by Matthew Chuang that brims with dreamy realism, Solevski’s film is all about feelings and abandons most clichéd plot structures. The tension is that these two men clearly love each other, yet fate, time and society are all misaligned. In 1999, it’s still taboo to be openly gay, and at the same time, Adam has more of a developed life he wishes to pursue. How can the bond with Kol survive? Stolevski discussed the inspiration of this film with Entertainment Voice, and the spirit of his work.
Goran, ‘Of an Age’ returns to a similar theme of unrequited love but with a unique tone and angle. Where did this particular screenplay come from?
It’s very funny, actually. I was reading a semi-fantasy by the writer Lauren Groff about a boy in a small town in Ireland who falls in love with a cadaver. It sounds very strange but it’s actually a very profound piece of writing. Then in the story the boy goes to his first party ever and I couldn’t go past that point of the story, no matter how many times I tried. What happened was memories from my adolescence kept flooding. I kept thinking of the one party I went to back in high school, which wasn’t much of an event but the mindset, the feeling of who I was at that age came back. What I thought life would be. My relationships to love, romance, sex, sexuality and connection, all came back. I just wanted to spend some time with these feelings. It all came together to give me this vision of these two guys in a car in a specific time and place, Melbourne in 1999. The dialogue sort of just jumped at me in high volume. I was reading at 2 a.m., but I just rushed out of bed and started typing frantically. Much of the screenplay came to me in that one night in a kind of manic moment.
You absolutely feel that sense of pure inspiration. One very intriguing aspect is how the characters have to relate to each other precisely in a pre-iPhone, pre-social media world. There’s that great opening stretch where they have to find Adam’s sister with something called fold out maps. What do you hope the film conveys about relationships and queer life as seen in hindsight from our tech-dominated existence?
That’s exactly why I set it in 1999. I felt there were positive and negative aspects to it. There was a special kind of loneliness for a queer kid. Of course there still is but technology has made it easier to find other people in the world you might have something in common with. Sometimes you could be the only gay person in the village. I myself had a different trajectory than the main character. I was openly and militantly queer in high school and it was so someone who might be secretly queer could come out too. We could find out we had something in common and not just in a romantic sense. I was into older men, in fact, not someone my own age (laughs). Gay people back then were only on TV, and very rarely. So in that context, if you meet another queer person the connection is poignant and electric in a way I don’t think exists for anyone else. That electricity of being the only two people in the room who know this about each other is extremely sexy but very poignant. The flip side of being no technology is also that attention spans were different. Instant gratification was not easily attainable. If you were both in a car you had to talk. The good part about that is that you had the patience to build a connection and converse. You didn’t just get easily bored and move on to the next person. I myself was lost in books and movies. This was a way to reconnect with that time.
Casting is so crucial here and Elias Anton and Thom Green bring these two characters to life as almost documentary subjects in how vivid they make them feel. How did you know these two were the actors you were certain could bring to life your script?
It was very difficult. On paper no one, including me, thought we could find someone who could convincingly play 17 and then 28, since there’s a time jump in the story. We were looking for two different actors to play two very different people. We looked at many guys of varying ages. No one was really clicking, especially for Kol. In Australia multiculturalism has always been present but not in the arts. The art scene has always been a rich person’s sport and still is. So therefore you don’t have many ethnic young actors who can audition, much less with experience for a role so complex. On top of that we needed someone who could dance. My casting director saw hundreds of options and I saw thousands. But then I saw Elias’s audition tape and I was transfixed by his set of eyes, which evoke experience. It’s unusual and uncanny in a young person, including the emotional vulnerability. He wasn’t trying to sell vulnerability, he just had it. Thom also had that vulnerability and I just knew they both worked. We did chemistry tests on zoom but what worked is how open they are. Each was interested in the other one.
Finally, you have explored many rich themes in your work, from folk legends to working class queer life. After “Of an Age,” what can we expect from you next?
I just finished editing my third film. It’s called “Housekeeping for Beginners.” It starts in Macedonia, where I grew up, and it is set in the present day. It’s a queer film as well but more of a family narrative. It’s about life as a queer person in an environment that isn’t supportive. You might cry but it will also make you laugh and it features a wide array of characters. There’s a rambunctious spirit in a very chaotic household. I hope to release that one soon as well.“
Of an Age” releases Feb. 17 in select theaters.