Youthful desire and longing permeate “Of an Age”

Three people standing together
Hattie Hook stars as Ebony, Thom Green as Adam and Elias Anton as Kol in director Goran Stolevski’s “Of An Age”. (Focus Features)

Out gay writer/director Goran Stolevski’s “Of an Age,” a shattering, slow-burn romantic drama opening February 17, is brimming with gay longing and desire. In 1999 Melbourne, Kol (Elias Anton) gets a frantic call from his bestie, Ebony (Hattie Hook), who has awoken on a beach with no idea of where she is. Ebony asks Kol to contact her older brother Adam — whom Kol has never met — to come get her. While on the drive, Kol and Adam chat about films and books, and at one point, Adam reveals he is gay. Kol struggles initially to process this information because he is immensely attracted to Adam. 

The crux of “Of an Age” is how Stolevski chronicles the relationship between these two young men through their furtive glances and unspoken desires. When Adam takes off his shirt, Kol cannot help but stare. When Adam loans Kol one of his shirts, Kol practically feels like he is being hugged by Adam. The film builds the sexual tension between the guys.

Stolevski effectively films much of “Of an Age” in closeup to convey the intimacy of Kol and Adam’s relationship as it develops over time. The filmmaker, who is Macedonian, but moved to Australia as a youth, chatted with Philadelphia Gay News about his emotionally charged new film.

What I most responded to in your film is this feeling of disorientation the characters have. Your film’s style and structure convey this disorientation as well. Can you talk about this creating this feeling that has viewers constantly recalibrating

I think that’s one of the things that drives me. The characters are present in a certain feeling, and you get a sense of electricity that something is going on, and you gradually pick up what is going on and what the context is. I love getting that feeling when I am watching a film or reading. So, I’m always trying to create that. It’s funny you framed it in this context. That feeling of disorientation is very key to being a teenager. You are so lost in the moment; everything is overwhelming all the time — as everything was for me at that age. 

Can you talk about creating the characters? Ebony is gloriously shrill. Adam is confident, knowledgeable, worldly, and seductive. Kol is innocent and angsty, curious and fragile, but he becomes empowered. 

I never grew up wanting to be seen on screen myself, but the feelings of that time are more important to me. The characters start with a feeling. When I work with actors, I fall in love with them, and want to preserve what I see is beautiful about them. There is also an essence to the person playing that I want to capture in the film as well. There is a magic to them that I don’t want to dominate.  

I’m curious about how you filmed faces and bodies here. Can you talk about filming the actors in this way to create longing.

It comes from what this person feels in this moment. How do I connect with them? I want the viewer to feel that they are the characters in this moment; nothing is present except this sliver of his face and the person in front of him in this moment. That is going to be a massive closeup. Every frame and edit is shaped around what are the characters feeling and how do I make the viewer feel under their skin? The stories I write are more about looking for connection and intimacy, even more than words. What are the eyes saying? Even in the edit, it is about what the eyes are doing at all times. To me the closeup is the master shot. It’s the most important one. I want to capture feelings when they are at their rawest. 

There are discussions of masculinity and gay characters’ stereotypes throughout the film. Can you discuss this and how you want to represent these gay men, (and the men around them)? I was very aware of the codes being dropped and the codeswitching in the conversations. 

That’s why it is set in 1999. We had a different relationship to queerness at the time. It wasn’t even called queerness. There was a lot of danger associated with it. With the LGBTQ thing, I am sick of being told to play the victim. I think there is a bubble and there is a strength that comes from being queer. Microaggressions to me are minor compared to macroaggressions that I grew up around. But it was interesting that when we were shooting, once we left the inner city, there was homophobia from bystanders. This is what it was like! It was 2021 but it might as well have been 1999. This was the feeling of being called a faggot from a distance because you’re wearing funny clothes. 

I think every gay man has that one awakening experience that defines them that they carry with them throughout their entire life. Can you discuss why you chose this topic for the film and how you grappled with your first pangs of gay desire?

I didn’t have that guy I could be obsessed with. They were always fictional. There wasn’t an Adam in my life in high school. It’s all an invention. I was writing from a place of one of the key lines, “I don’t have any friends.” It was that sense of being able to connect with someone deeply, and in this case, there is a romantic and sexual context so it was much more intense. At that age, it was craving a really deep connection — even putting aside sexuality and romance. I was looking for a friend to talk about books and movies and feelings and the world. The loneliness and sense of connection is what is driving Adam as well. 

What are your thoughts about being a queer filmmaker and telling queer stories? 

This film wouldn’t be financed if straight women didn’t like gay romances. I want to be seen as universal. I don’t want to dilute my queerness, but I am frustrated that Tarkovsky gets to be Tarkovsky, and Jane Campion gets to be Jane Campion, but I get to be Goran Stolevski, the migrant gay [filmmaker]. I don’t think of myself or my feelings as any less than Tarkovsky or Jane Campion. I get very frustrated that if you are a rich straight guy who is solemn, and doesn’t speak much, there is a weight to your feelings. Whereas if you are gay, you are niche — and if you are a woman, to a significant extent. Femininity is less weighty. I am driven to do something that stands for the human condition but is also undilutedly queer and, in my case, ethnic.