For fans of “Weekend,” “Before Sunrise” and other regret-tinged romances about what-might-have-beens and what-were-nots, “Of an Age” just might be the devastating cinematic kick you need — and a reason to rue the one who’ll never get away.
Its director, Goran Stolevski, made a modest splash at Sundance and in theaters last year with his directorial debut, the witchy, body-jumping folk horror tale “You Might Be Alone” for Focus Features. He reteams with the prestige distributor for “Of an Age,” which finds the director switching up genres but still laying down a throughline: The sexy Aussie-set gay romance is about bodies, after all, and the way they bend toward time and desire.
“All my films could really be called ‘You Won’t Be Alone,’” the Macedonian-born, Australian-based filmmaker told IndieWire over a recent Zoom interview. “It’s just that I’ve already used that title.” The out-gay director is charmingly self-effacing.
His confidently made second feature, “Of an Age,” unfolds across 1999 and 2010, as high schooler and aspiring dancer Kol (Elias Anton) gets caught up in a frenzy of feelings over his friend and dance partner’s older brother Adam (Thom Green). They first bond over Franz Kafka, Tori Amos, and Wong Kar Wai’s “Happy Together” over a leisurely, hot car ride, stoking an instant connection interrupted by circumstance (but not without sex in the backseat). A decade later, Kol reunites with Adam at his friend’s wedding — one the kid has all but chased him to — and the pair confront the love affair that escaped them and the agonies of time lost.
Stolevski, who emigrated from Macedonia to Australia with his parents as a teenager, raised himself on English-language movies and TV and idolized actresses like Isabelle Huppert. So you wouldn’t be totally off base to want to pinpoint some autobiography in “Of an Age’s” media-literate, queer coming-of-age particulars. There’s truth to that, though the circumstances depicted in the film didn’t play out as such in real life.
“The feeling of writing it started from just a really vivid memory of one really arbitrary event. Like a party, the one party that I went to in high school, having this feeling of this kid who wouldn’t admit to himself that he was extremely lonely and really struggled to connect with people. This was at a time before technology made things a little bit easier as well as a lot more complicated. There’s actually a lot more of me in Adam than there is in Kol, but the demographics are a bit of a distraction in that case,” Stolevski said, noting how Kol, a Serbian-born immigrant living in Melbourne, is a fellow Balkan flung into Australia.
“I wanted to look at that mindset of what I thought love was and what it would be, and in the context of who I became later on and how I processed it then and who I am now,” said Stolevski, who lives in Australia with his husband but spoke to IndieWire from Los Angeles, where’s he’s been taking meetings about his next project.
Adam is, in some ways, an idealization of the kind of person that young closeted gay people yearn to connect with, especially those struggling socially who bury themselves in music and movies rather than people, who mostly disappoint anyway.
“When you meet a kid who was you five years earlier, and you recognize these feelings, and you see them reflected back at you, if you have a nurturing side to you, that leads to the connection, wanting to protect someone,” he said. “In terms of my own experience, in love and romance, that was sort of [when] I realized the patterns of my personality. It would catch me off guard when I started falling in love with someone. The dynamic was that sense of when he was vulnerable in a way he wasn’t aware of, I just wanted to hug him in a way that wasn’t just sexual. But it was probably very sexual.”
The film’s establishing centerpiece is a car ride shared by Adam, at the wheel, and Kol, in the passenger seat and in awe of being seen. They talk Borges, Dickens, and movies while stealing sidelong looks that set up the movie’s aching undercurrent: furtive glances and verbal attraction. Stolevski takes a risk by keeping us in that car, in tight Academy ratio closeup, as long as he does.
“I was just lying down in the backseat. I had to position myself strategically,” he said of the claustrophobic and seductive scene, which was just “me and the two guys” in the car. (The cinematographer, Matthew Chuang, also creates many indelible images that take place outside the car.) “When writing the film, or certainly before shooting it, I thought that [scene] was going to be the biggest challenge, not just holding people’s interest through conversation in a car, but also the shift that happens in the way the story is shaped in the beginning. The first 16 minutes are about the chaos of adolescence… and then there’s a tonal shift. I’m trying to keep locked in the mindset of how his heart is beating.”
Stolevski fielded “hundreds” of audition tapes before he wound up casting relative unknown Elias Anton as Kol. In fact, he had a different kind of person in mind entirely, and so Stolevski reshaped the role, and rewrote the dialogue, to fit Anton’s particular presence.
“Elias looked and sounded like nothing I described or envisioned, [which was] a short skinny kid in the role when I was writing it. I also know his work from a TV show in Australia, which I liked, but he wasn’t physically what I thought fit the type,” Stolevski said. “When I saw the tape… this was the only set of eyes that I felt like carried a certain life experience… This is someone I want to watch, because there’s a rawness to his feelings.”
He added, “I am often not looking for the person I wrote. I am looking for the person to assess the chest-thumping, and then go reshape the story around this. What does that movie look and feel like? With Elias that was the only time with ‘Of an Age’ where I thought, ‘This version is more interesting to me than what I was determined to make before that.’”
Stolevski conceived of the movie in 2020, a less-than-ideal time for a starting filmmaker. But “Of an Age” and his next movie, the drama “Housekeeping for Beginners” (which focuses on a gay woman forced to raise her sick partner’s child), were financed before “You Won’t Be Alone.” “It might be a lot more trouble from now on,” Stolevski said of financing his idiosyncratic and personal queer stories.
Either way, a film like “Of an Age” should offer anyone who loves turning a missed romantic opportunity over and over in their minds, going in circles over what went wrong or didn’t, a chance to relive regret all over again.
“Of an Age” opens in select theaters from Focus Features on Friday, February 17.
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