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The Devils Playground

Fred Schepisi’s celebrated first feature is a lushly photographed period drama detailing a young boy’s coming-of-age in a strict Catholic seminary in 1950s Victoria. A semi-autobiographical retelling of the director’s own training for the priesthood, the story follows 13-year-old Tom Allen (Simon Burke), a serious, likable boy whose calling for the church is complicated by guilt associated with his masturbation and sinful thoughts. While the ascetic Brother Francine (Arthur Dignam) prowls the school’s corridors looking for evidence of ”the undisciplined mind”, the hard-drinking Brother Victor (Nick Tate) refutes the harsh discipline that scars the hearts and minds of the students – though each battle a desire to consummate the pleasures of the flesh. This Australian film classic cemented the rise of director Fred Schepisi (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Evil Angels) when it won six AFI awards including Best Film and Best Director, and made a breakthrough screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976.

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