By Melissa Anastasi | Drama
A neglected girl steals from pregnant women at the local swimming pool.

Keira is a neglected 11-year-old who steals from pregnant women in the prenatal class at her local pool. She is left on her own a lot, and when she’s home, her caretaker Beth is too busy enjoying the heady, hedonistic freedoms of young adulthood and new romance to pay Keira much attention.

Starved of care and attention, Keira attempts to fit into Beth’s world as quietly as possible. But when she discovers Beth’s dreams for the future, Keira acts out and threatens the very existence of their small family.

Written and directed by Melissa Anastasi, this spellbinding short drama captures the emotional landscape of a lonely girl longing to be mothered. Quiet in tenor yet full of suffused emotion, the storytelling drifts through Keira’s emotionally impoverished world. Her only sense of comfort comes from the cool yet cocooned space of a community pool.

Much of the film’s initial power comes from its astonishing, evocative visuals, which drift and waft into one another with the gentleness of a stream. The lighting and colors of the film are soft and sensuous, with an innate melancholy, and the camera movement and composition have a slightly distant, observational quality, emphasized by the dreamy pace of the editing. Through the visuals, we experience Keira’s world through a perspective that is removed but also sodden with longing.

The watery, echo-filled setting of the pool where Keira spends her time provides a hazy, almost womb-like enclosure where Keira exerts and explores her furtive fascinations with mothers, stealing pictures of ultrasounds and other artifacts from them. The pool also contrasts with the dinginess and chaos of Keira’s home. Beth has obligations to care for Keira, but the little girl is often shunted aside for more immediate pleasures. Through patient, poetic details and sparse dialogue, the storytelling pieces together a world where Keira feels herself on the margins, longing for a galaxy where she is at the center and not a satellite spinning off at the edges.

Actors Clementine Bell and Marlo Kelly, as Keira and Beth respectively, inhabit their characters with compelling authenticity, with understated performances that illuminate the flicker of longings, secrets and understandings between them. Bell is remarkable as a little girl who must parent herself, giving her self-sufficiency and sadness beyond her years, while Kelly has an innate charisma that gives voice and shape to the pull of freedom and the tug of responsibility. The pair have a tenuous balance as a family until a casual, reckless moment leads to a breakdown that threatens their already fragile bond.

With captivating images and a delicacy of detail, “Chlorine” — which premiered at the Sydney Film Festival as one of four recipients of a prestigious Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship — offers a shifting kaleidoscope of impressions that play with our perceptions of sisterhood, motherhood and families. We fear for the worst for Keira and Beth at the film’s nadir. But the film’s final, stunning set of images offer a kind of transformative baptism, where both characters must confront the truth. In finding it, they find their places in the world and with one another, emerging out of the water as a different family altogether.

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