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The Issue of Identity in Looking for Alibrandi and Beneath Clouds

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As Josie said in Melina Marchette’s novel, ‘Looking for Alibrandi’, “You can’t hate what your part of. What you are. I resent it most of the time, curse it always, but it’ll be part of me till the day I die.’ In today’s ever-growing societies, the concept of identity is extremely imperative to one. Identity is beyond the outside attributes, it more of the inside elements. Most individuals define other individuals by the colour of their skin, their ethnicity and the environment that surrounds one. In teenagers, self-identity is vital, it shapes their perception of belonging in their adolescent years and their adult life. The concept of identity also determines one’s actions, the way they behave and the decisions they make. People who grow up with strong religious beliefs and cultural tradition often are found to struggle with their identity. In the texts ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ and ‘Beneath Clouds’ the theme of adolescents’ struggling with their identity is represented through the stories of Josephine Alibrandi, Lena and Vaughn, as well as the authors’ ideology, use of theme, emotion, film techniques, body language and aesthetic devices.

Melina Marchette’s 1992 novel “Looking for Alibrandi”, and Ivan Sen’s 2002 film “Beneath Clouds” are popular texts that detail the ever-lasting issue of Identity, more specifically with adolescents. In Melina’s novel, it is set in the 1980’s and is centred around the concept of teenage girl difficulties and some of the many issues one can face during their teenage years. In Ivan Sen’s “Beneath Clouds” the concept of identity is also present and is seen to be a very distinct issue between the protagonists of the film, those being Lena and Vaughn. Identity is important for teenagers, as that is the time they are trying on different schemes to discover themselves and who they really are. The author uses their own ideology which creates theme and mood which creates the viewer and readers to feel empathy for Josie, Lena and Vaughn.

 “Looking for Alibrandi” is a novel written by Melinda Marchetta, who is a well-known Australian writer, author and teacher. In her novel, “Looking for Alibrandi” it is about an Italian girl called Josephine Alibrandi, she has an Italian grandmother, an Italian mother and an Italian father, which they each all portray different views about their cultural background, good and bad. Josie’s actions, behaviours and feelings portray that growing up in Australia while being a second-generation Italian isn’t the best experience, because she is a full blood Italian with a father of non-Australian culture. Josie’s ambitions and aspirations reach further than her Italian heritage which is why she has different perceptions on it compared to her Nona and Mother. Throughout the novel, it is clear that Josie has a lot of frustration with her culture as it has caused huge problems with her social life. Josie’s perception on her identity has caused a lot of isolation from her family and her friends from school as well as rejecting her culture all together.

Like any teenager, Josie’s identity is very significant to her. She eventually learns to embrace her Italian culture but before she does she struggles majorly with her work, father figure, her Nonna, her mother and her school friends. Melinda Marchetta wrote this novel with the protagonist being Josie with no legitimate father figure, with leaves her having to piece together everything and having a better understanding of who she is and where she essentially belongs. Josie has been illegitimate her whole life, which her actions, thoughts and emotions throughout the novel expressly show that she dislikes It and her father. Josie and Christiana have always been criticised by their family for a very long time as Christiana had Josie when she was very young, which was resented in their Italian culture and the fact that Josie’s dad wasn’t in either of their lives made it worse. Melinda has portrayed Christina to have very powerful judgment and comes off as a very strong-willed woman, she has a bad relationship with her mother, Katia Alibrandi. Marchetta has constructed Katia as the strong Italian influence in the Alibrandi family. As a first-generation immigrant to Australia Katia had to deal with exclusion, racism, segregation and surviving in a new country. Katia brings with her a strict set of cultural rules and regulations that are expressed in the book with the overriding ideologies being the significance of marriage, the anticipation to marry within your culture and that illegitimacy is not acceptable, Katia Alibrandi portrays with such strong morals and values as she was forced into a marriage at a young age and had moved to a country foreign to her, she opens up to Josie about her life and her affair with a man she was in love with, before this, Melina had constructed a very passive aggressive with Josie and her Nonna, which is one of the main influences Josie faces to resenting her relationship.

Similar to Melina’s “Looking for Alibrandi”, Ivan Sen produced a film which details the issue of identity within adolescents. There are similar aspects between the protagonists of the film, Josie and Lena. Josie eventually comes to terms with her multicultural background, she states “I’m an Australian with Italian blood flowing rapidly through my veins. I say this with pride because pride is what I feel.’ Ivan Sen uses the film techniques like camera angles, film codes and body language to show the rejection Lena is facing. In the film, Lena is constructed to have a very difficult relationship with not only her aboriginal mother and step father, but with the connection to her indigenous background, Lena is from a very regional and poor outback town with little opportunities for anyone living there, including Lena and her friend Ty. Ivan Sen pieces together the isolation and melancholy themes in the film where Lena and Ty are depicted walking along a dirt road with road trains going past, Lena’s body language instantly creates the viewer to feel empathy for her situation in the town. Ty reveals to Lena that she may be pregnant, which Lena replies back “‘You’re never gonna get out of this shit-hole.” Lena has a difficult life at home which Ivan portrays with her younger brother being taken by police as she arrives home, Lena’s body language from that particular scene displays automatic anger, at herself, her brother and her mother and stepfather, Lena expresses to her mother ‘You don’t give a shit about us, do you?’ Ivan uses this as a tool of foreshadowing as this is the first example of Lena rejecting her indigenous background, she breaks away from her mother. She impulsively decides to leave with little money, a backpack and a album of photos which is the only remembrance she has of her father.

Lena is constructed as a light skinned teenager with green eyes, she has no traits of a person of indigenous culture apart from the way she speaks and the way she reacts to situations. Lena has an option to be seen as white and more often than not, decides to resent her indigenous background. In the film, when she is with Vaughn on their journey to Sydney, she is offered a lift by an older lady which she declines as she is with Vaughn and he wasn’t acknowledged, she is offered a drink by the bartender which again, Vaughn isn’t acknowledged as he identifies as an aboriginal. Throughout their journey Lena identifies herself as being Irish, which is again her resenting her aboriginal culture. Throughout the film, Lena portrays as very intelligent, and determind teenager with big aspirations, she feels if she leaves her indigenous background behind than she will have more opportunities to be what she wants to be. When Lena and Vaughn are in the car with aboriginal people, one of the elderly women asks her where she is from, she avoids the conversation. Ivan Sen uses different camera angles to portray Lena’s attitudes and emotion, throughout the film Lena’s body language speaks louder than words, she does not say much to anyone and her voice is full tone and texture with high capabilities of being aggressive.

Unlike Lena, Vaughn constructs his identity based fully off his indigenous heritage. In film, Vaughn is depicted to have strong aboriginal connections and is built off of anger and criminal acts. While he was in prison, he instantly comes off as aggressive towards white people discriminating against his culture. Viewers of Sen’s film will automatically feel empathy for Vaughn as he sees he is someone that nobody cares about him. Ivan Sen has used a film technique to display the similarities between Vaughn and a horse being transported in a truck to an abattoir, the director of Sens film cuts from a close up of Vaughn’s face to a close up of a horse’s eye, it is obvious that Vaughn is having a moment of self-reflection and realises he will not be free when he arrives at Sydney. The melancholic music in the background of this scene reinforces that he has realised his own fate.


Beneath Clouds and Looking for Alibrandi both explores many issues with indigenous Australians and Non-Indigenous Australians, the protagonists of the film Lena and Vaugh are both burdened by dysfunctional families, alcoholism and violence as well as cultural identity issues. Lena and Vaughn both find themselves in situations where they both are searching for another identity, Lena is wanting to find her Irish father to avoid her indigenous background and Vaughn wants to reconnect with his dying mother.  

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