The Inner Sanctum

Watching Samuel Van Grinsven’s SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM is like reading THE STORY OF O for the first time: an induction into a sensual world, exploring all of its pleasures, hierarchies and structures. While Van Grinsven’s film is set in contemporary Sydney, where men hook up via a Grindr-like app, its presentation of an erotic scene is nothing less than awed.

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Watching Samuel Van Grinsven’s SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM is like reading THE STORY OF O for the first time: an induction into a sensual world, exploring all of its pleasures, hierarchies and structures. While Van Grinsven’s film is set in contemporary Sydney, where men hook up via a Grindr-like app, its presentation of an erotic scene is nothing less than awed: the blue room is a quasi-mythical space, a labyrinth accessed by only the most desirable and powerful. Encounters are staged according to an elaborate choreography; a sequence of blue veils marks the arrival of a potential partner.

Typically, this kind of initiation story tends to focus on a newcomer, and their gradual awakening to the rules of the game. But Sequin (Conor Leach) is no ingenue; at sixteen, he is already an accomplished seducer – angel-faced, with a sly, elusive presence. During classes, he relieves boredom by browsing for dates, confident that he has what everyone wants. Online he markets himself through the use of one image, his signature spangled vest. This turns out to be wildly successful – he has no shortage of admirers, and Sequin prides himself on never sleeping with a man twice. Approached by a guy of his own age at school, he can only be faintly amused.

For this elegant young prince, entry to the blue room should be a given – but once he gets there, Sequin is unsettled. In the maze of blue veils, he is pursued by an older stalker (Ed Wightman), whose anger and impatience are evident. Trying to escape, he runs into the arms of another player (Samuel Barrie) who takes his breath away. Sequin is usually unflappable around men, but even he has to admit that this new stranger is thrilling. Attraction and malevolence co-exist, alongside the dark possibility of love.

The film gains in mystery by making its protagonist the inscrutable object of desire – the kind of youth idolized by Patricia Highsmith and Oscar Wilde. Sequin is a figure who holds his own power and place in the game, even if he can be outmanoeuvred by more experienced players. It is a pleasure to watch him navigate this dance, making use of his precocious skills. Leach gives the character a Kate Moss-like mystique: sometimes smiling but rarely speaking, knowing that his attention grants prestige.

SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM is the most sensual Australian debut since Julia Leigh’s SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011) – and reminiscent of that film in its depiction of an intense, poetic world bordered by the realities of quotidian life. Between moments in the blue room, Sequin has to manage his time at school and his life at home with his dad (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor), a plain-spoken man in awe of his polished son. Sydney has rarely been a convincing setting for erotic tales (SLEEPING BEAUTY and John Duigan’s CARELESS LOVE, 2012, are the exceptions), but the interior scenes by cinematographer Jay Grant give us a definite sense of place. The film captures the city’s coolness – its architecture of blue rooms, open only to a select few.

Lesley Chow is an Australian writer on music and film. She was president of the film critics' jury at Toronto in 2018, and has also been on the juries at Venice, Berlin and Istanbul. She is associate editor of Bright Lights Film Journal and writes on music for The Quietus, as well as publishing in Times Literary Supplement, Salon, Senses of Cinema, Cineaste, Photofile and CNN. She is currently writing a book about female anomalies in popular music.

 

To learn more about al thirty-four of the feature films in competition for the 2019 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel, download the Judges Handbook here.

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