The fighting spirit of a vulnerable bird


15-year-old Milla is suffering from a life-threatening illness. When she meets Moses one day, her life changes. Despite the tragedy, the Australian film ‘Babyteeth’ is an energetic and uplifting experience.

When ‘Babyteeth’ was presented in competition at the Venice Film Festival last year – Covid-19 has postponed its release several times – director Shannon Murphy did not know how the audience would react. It is her first full-length film, and cinema is quite different from the plays, operas and short films with which she made a name for herself in her home country Australia.

‘Babyteeth’ tells about parting, impotence and pain, but with so much panache and energy that the film turns into an ode to life.

The tone of the movie worried her. ‘Babyteeth’ is the story of 15-year-old Milla, who is strongly shielded from the outside world by her parents. They have good reasons for this, because the girl is suffering from a life-threatening illness and they are terrified that something will happen to her. The situation becomes even more tense when, on his way back from school, Milla meets Moses, a 23-year-old young man who spends his days doing nothing and taking drugs. Milla immediately melts for Moses’ relaxed style, her parents don’t like the early love.

Naughty and playful

The way Murphy tells the story sets ‘Babyteeth’ apart from most similar films. She adopts with visible pleasure the mischief and playfulness of her source material, the play of the same name by the Australian dramaturge Rita Kalnejais. ‘Babyteeth’ talks about parting, impotence and pain, but Kalnejais and Murphy bring these themes with such panache and energy that the film turns into an ode to life.


  • ‘Babyteeth’ is the first full-length film by Australian theater maker Shannon Murphy.
  • Central to this drama is a 15-year-old girl who suffers from a serious illness and is shielded by her parents.
  • Her life takes a new turn when she meets a sweet but irresponsible boy.
  • ‘Babyteeth’ takes a dark subject and shines a wonderful multi-colored light on it.
  • The actors play very well without exception.

Many people consider this mix of tragedy, humor and casualness very Australian, Murphy says. ‘Australians don’t usually take themselves very seriously. At the same time, I have only lived there for 12 years. My father is Australian, but I grew up in Hong Kong and other parts of the world. I am proud that people still call my film typically Australian, also because we stay far away from the outback and the other landscapes that often characterize Australian films. In this story, the actors ‘faces are the landscapes.’

Forensic look

Because of the lived and subtle performances you notice that Murphy is anything but a novice. Eliza Scanlen makes Milla so much more than a vulnerable bird and gives her an unexpected strength. Newcomer Toby Wallace gives Moses so much endearing charm that you can easily forgive him for his many flaws. Established values ‚Äč‚ÄčEssie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn cleverly bring to life the heartbreaking dilemma and complex relationship of Milla’s parents. “I think it’s important to keep the atmosphere on set as light as possible,” says Murphy. ‘Such an artificial environment does not make the actors’ task any easier, with all those cameras and people watching. That’s why I want jokes to be made and everyone to have fun. ‘

The protagonists from the film: Eliza Scanlen (Milla) and Toby Wallace (Moses).

However, ‘Babyteeth’ is not only emotional drama with strong actors. The film is largely set in one house – a beautiful and authentic house with a glass atrium – and the story is small-scale. Those limitations don’t stop Murphy from creating a resourceful and visually appealing piece of cinema. For example, she lets Milla look at the camera several times, as if the girl wants to involve the viewer extra in the story. The seemingly irrelevant details she adds here and there – note the birds – give the story an extra dimension. And the way she plays with colors is nothing short of breathtaking.

Murphy insists on giving kudos to her production designer, a feature that all too often is left in the dark. ‘In this case it was Sherree Philips,’ she says. She started her professional career as a forensic expert. She researched crime scenes and created psychological profiles of criminals. The interesting thing is that she has kept that forensic look and approaches the story and the characters with it. That’s why every detail in the film is correct. ‘

‘Babyteeth’ will be playing in the cinemas from this week.

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