On my way to the cinema, a man stopped and yelled across the Britomart escalators that I should “lighten up, princess”. I bring this up because, as humiliating as those experiences are, it was a depressingly fitting hors d’oeuvre for the sloppy pub meal of sexism that Hotel Coolgardie would later serve up.
Brave Finnish backpackers Stephie and Lina are the latest victims to step into the role of barmaid aka “fresh meat” in the only pub in Coolgardie, a remote outback mining town with severe Wolf Creek vibes. What transpires, captured unflinchingly by director and cinematographer Pete Gleeson‘s observational camera, is a nuanced portrait of power, gender and crushing small town sadness.
Whether it’s through the ongoing competition to see who can root the women first, bulldog man Pikey refusing to leave Lina’s room, or barflies giggling at the women being constantly derided, Hotel Coolgardie skillfully peels back layers of sexism all the way to the rotten core. There are moments of levity – and a lot of heart in form of a toothless gentle giant named Can Man – but through the chuckles remains a looming threat that all women will be familiar with.
For something soaked in XXXX beer, Hotel Coolgardie is absolutely sobering, absolutely skin-crawling and absolutely necessary viewing. It gives concrete examples to the abstract ick that women have to carry around with them all day and, given the blokey Aussie context, has tons of potential to reach far beyond the echo chamber.
Many films attempt the lofty cliche of “holding up a mirror”, but this is one that might actually change what we choose to reflect back.