SXSW Short Film Review: Adult (Australia, 2017) is an unflinching portrayal of the adult film industry

Based on award winning Greek-Australian author Christos Tsiolkas’ short story Porn 1, Adult is an unflinching portrayal of the adult film industry and the mark its key figures leave on their loved ones.

Set in a time long ago when the humble VHS was still a thing, Writer/Director Jamieson Pierce’s short centres on elderly Greek woman Elena (played sublimely by Victoria Haralabidou) who discovers her son’s involvement in the LA gay porn industry following his death. What follows is a series of perfectly shot sequences as Elena watches a film starring her son, coming to terms with both her grief and only child’s secret sexuality in the same moment.

Funded through the Australian Cultural Fund and an Arts Grant from the City of Melbourne, the film packs a raft of emotions into its relatively short 12-minute running time, using every second to craft a story that packs more of a punch than most feature films. Like Tsiolkas, Pierce is openly gay, and his adaptation is an impressive representation on the subject of sexuality and its impacts on wider society. It is clear that Elena does not agree with her son’s path, and although this may be amplified by the explicit nature of the scenes that play before her eyes, I view Adult as a fascinating study into the difference in generational acceptance.

Pierce affirms this idea in his promotion of the short, calling it a piece that explores Elena’s loss of motherhood due to the failure on her part to accept her son’s chosen identity.

As Pierce states, “I’m interested in the mother/child relationship – like most gay boys. I imagine that for many LGBT kids of my generation and earlier, they feel that their parents experience a loss – imagined or real – at their coming out. The person that their parents expected (or hoped?) them to become may no longer be possible or desirable. In the case of Elena, she cannot accept this change. In the film, she mourns the loss of her son, but she had lost him – and her role as a mother – long before he died.”

Pierce’s inspiration to adapt Tsiolkas’ story came from the suicide of a close friend, which the filmmaker said occurred due to the “difficulty of being gay in sectors of Australian society”. With this in mind Adult is a masterful outlet of Pierce’s grief, as he spins his personal experience into a dynamic and must watch sociological examination. The filmmaker is definitely one to watch, and I look forward to following his career in the years to come.

Porn 1 is just one story which comments on this and wider themes of sexuality in Tsiolkas’ must read collection of short stories Merciless Gods, published in 2014. In fact in the book it is followed by Porn 2 and Porn 3, tales that explore similar ideas in the same seamy context. Where Pierce succeeds is in separating this story from the wider collection and making it a singular unmissable narrative, one which anyone with a passing interest in cinema should go well out of their way to see. It is no word of a lie when I say that SXSW attendees are in for a real treat with this one.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Adult is screening as part of the shorts program at SXSW in Austin, Texas.