The Year My Voice Broke: The lonely pleasures of a country dance

The Year My Voice Broke: The lonely pleasures of a country dance
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He’s alone, she’s alone, everyone’s alone at the mid-year dance, a cheerless gathering for all concerned. Danny (Noah Taylor) makes a statement with his outfit, a little bit Marlon Brando, a little bit Elvis. He is deflated when Trevor (Ben Mendelsohn), who’s supposed to be locked up, turns up to sweep Freya (Loene Carmen) off her feet. Summary by Paul Byrnes.

Note the pan along the glum girls’ faces – an entire theme in that one shot. While Danny’s emotions drive the film, it constantly shows us the disappointment and discrimination against women in this milieu.


The Year My Voice Broke synopsis

Danny (Noah Taylor) is a gawky 15-year-old, in love with his best friend, the beautiful and free-spirited Freya (Loene Carmen). They’re misfits in a country town in NSW in 1962. When Freya falls for Trevor (Ben Mendelsohn), football star and apprentice delinquent, Danny’s sexual longing turns to jealous confusion. As he tries to win her back, Danny uncovers a dark secret in the town’s past.


The Year My Voice Broke curator's notes

Beneath its quirky story of coming of age in rural Australia, The Year My Voice Broke is a savage portrait of a small town hypocrisy and sexual repression. The beauty of the hills around the town, where Freya and Danny have played together since childhood, is a kind of paradise, in marked contrast to the unhappy living rooms below, where adult problems play out in secret shame. Writer-director John Duigan continually emphasises high and low angles of view and constructs a sense of paradise lost, with a strongly emotional core. The film is an unusual mix – both romantic pastorale, a nostalgic memoir of growing up in the countryside, and a shocking denunciation of its values. The latter was not especially new, but the film’s delicate balance of dark and light tone, especially its use of laconic humour (the mid-year dance, and Trevor’s constant car thefts) made the film very popular with audiences. Geoff Burton’s cinematography is of immense value in establishing a strong sense of place. The film was followed three years later by a sequel, Flirting, in which Danny, played again by Noah Taylor, goes to boarding school.

Notes by Paul Byrnes


Education notes

This clip shows Freya (Loene Carmen) dancing by herself at the school dance. A slow shot tracks along the faces of girls seated along the wall who are hoping to be asked for a dance. Outside, Danny (Noah Taylor) confidently approaches the dancehall, but a group of bullies jeer him as he enters, making fun of his appearance. Inside, he meets Freya and asks her to dance, but she refuses, suggesting he asks the wallflowers. Trevor (Ben Mendelsohn) appears in the doorway. Freya sees him and goes to meet him. The dancing stops and Trevor and Freya embrace then depart, with Trevor waving to the crowd. Danny is shown in focus behind the dancers, as they all watch the couple leave.

Educational value points

  • The Year My Voice Broke has been praised for its sensitivity to the trials of adolescence, and ability to portray the intensity of emotion that accompanies adolescent experiences and this clip gives Australian writer and director John Duigan’s interpretation of a rural school dance. The awkwardness of the students is effectively communicated in the slow tracking shot along the faces of the seated girls waiting to be asked to dance and in the final shot of the clip, in which Danny is singled out as the sole person in focus as he watches Freya leave with her boyfriend.
  • The clip provides an Australian example of a classic adolescent film set piece. The school dance or prom is a familiar narrative climax of films in the teen genre, also known as 'rites of passage’, or 'coming of age’ films, which became particularly popular in the 1980s with the hit films of writer, producer and director John Hughes, including Pretty in Pink (1986). It is also a common feature of teen horror films such as Carrie (1976). All these films share the theme of the school dance as superficial gloss on a primitive and ruthless mating ritual, with high hopes dashed or fulfilled, winners and losers, and efforts to succeed often being rewarded with public humiliation.
  • The Year My Voice Broke both subscribes to and departs from the clichés established by most US teen films. Such clichés include the ugly duckling turning into the swan, or prom night dreams coming true. Danny himself is to some extent a clichéd character, as the high school 'nerd’, Trevor is the well-built football jock and Freya the beauty creating a love triangle, yet the film rises above these clichés to become more of a small-town gothic, as Danny does not succeed in winning the object of his affections at the dance or in the longer term.
  • Although set in the early 1960s, the film suggests the ongoing realities of life in rural Australia. It has an enduring resonance for young people who experience the limited opportunities available in country towns. The camera reveals the students at the dance, with the exception of Danny, as bored victims of pressure to conform to a conservative and homogenous society.
  • Traditional sex roles, suppression of difference and individuality, and publicly condoned cruelty have been exposed and criticised in a range of Australian films such as Muriel’s Wedding (1994). The critical edginess of The Year My Voice Broke is a key characteristic of the 'ocker’ film.
  • The clip showcases the work of Australian actors Noah Taylor (Danny) and Loene Carmen (Freya). The film was acclaimed for the natural and believable performances of its young actors. They work with minimal dialogue in John Duigan’s script, but achieve a depth and intensity of characterisation that is the foundation for the audience’s empathy for the characters. While The Year My Voice Broke was only his second film, Taylor has now appeared in more than 35 productions, including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), the controversial biography of Adolf Hitler Max (2002) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).
  • The Year My Voice Broke is one of John Duigan’s most widely known and loved films. It won Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards in 1987 for Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. Duigan’s films include Flirting (1991) the sequel to The Year My Voice Broke, and the Australian classic Dimboola (1979).

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Kennedy Miller
Doug Mitchell, George Miller, Terry Hayes
John Duigan
Written by:
John Duigan

This clip starts approximately 58 minutes into the feature.

’60s music plays as we pan around the hall, seeing some students dancing happily, and a number seated forlornly on the sidelines. Freya dances alone, and listlessly, on the dancefloor.
Boy Hey, Freya. Got a couple of beers outside for later.
Freya (sarcastically) Gee!
Boy 2 We’ll walk you home after.
Freya Oh, yeah.

Outside, Danny arrives, smoking and wearing sunglasses and a black leather jacket.
Boy The sun a bit bright for you, Embling?
Boy 2 He reckons he’s Marlon Brando. How ya going, Marlon?
Boy Where’s your white stick?
Boy 2 Probably been wanking all day!
Girl Oh, God, you two are off!

Danny stands coolly on the dancefloor and Freya approaches him.
Freya Hi, sexy.
Danny Hi.
He offers her his cigarette.
Freya Given up. Must have been your hypnotising me. Gee, you’re clever.
Danny You with anyone?
Freya Myself.
Danny Me too.
Freya Pretty pleased with my partner.
Danny Wanna dance?
Freya In a while. Try one of them.
Danny Plenty of time.
Freya Good luck.

She blows him a kiss and walks off. Danny sidles up to the seated students and speaks to the nearest girl.
Danny Wanna dance?
Girl No, thanks.
Just as Danny recovers from a hacking coughing fit after inhaling cigarette smoke, Trevor appears in the doorway. Freya walks over and kisses him. Trevor waves and they depart, as the students all stop and stare. The music continues as we see Danny, crushed, in the background.