‘Bump’ Star Nathalie Morris Talks ‘Petrol,’ Which Sells to Australia, New Zealand (EXCLUSIVE)

Cinema Plus has secured theatrical rights in Australia and New Zealand to Alena Lodkina’s drama “Petrol.” Scheduled for release in March 2023, it has just vowed in main competition at the Marrakech Film Festival following its Locarno world premiere in August.

“Petrol” is produced by Kate Laurie, who has already collaborated with Lodkina on her first feature “Strange Colours” and short “There Is No Such Thing as a Jellyfish.” It was funded by Screen Australia, VicScreen, the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund, SBS and Orange Entertainment, with Alief on board as its international sales agent.

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The film – set in Melbourne, where the helmer has lived for the last 10 years – mirrors Lodkina’s own story. Just like her protagonist, Eva, she was born to Russian parents. But it soon takes a detour into a more mysterious territory when Eva befriends Mia: a performance artist haunted by the ghosts of the past.

Breaking out to international acclaim for her perf as a teen mother in “Bump,” from Australia’s Stan, which has played BBC1, CW in the U.S.  and HBO Max in Latin America, Nathalie Morris stars in “Petrol” along with Hannah Lynch.

“What I immediately connected with was, aside from the qualities of Eva, the friendship at the heart of the film. Or that relationship, because I don’t know if you can even call it that,” Morris tells Variety.

“I was drawn to Eva’s fascination with Mia, her desire to be close to her. Her fear of her. I felt like I knew Mia but I have never ‘read’ her in a script before. Or seen that character captured in art.”

Morris, represented by RGM Artists and Gail Cowan Management, is known for “Black Christmas.” She can also be seen in TV series “Bump,” with its third season scheduled to premiere on Dec. 26 in Australia and New Zealand on Stan.

Her character in “Petrol,” a withdrawn film student, is impressed by Mia’s boldness. Or the confidence she herself seems to lack at times.

“I connected with her ambition, her feeling of being an outsider. She is in between two cultures,” notes Morris.

“Her parents are Russian. She was born in Australia but still raised in a very Russian household. My mum is French, so I was able to identify with that feeling that Alena is trying to capture in the film,” she adds, also mentioning Eva’s “observant nature.”

“I feel she is someone who really watches other people and watches the world. I feel I am the same way. I am a real ‘starer’,” she laughs.

Lodkina asked her to watch two films before the shoot: 1974 cult curio “Céline and Julie Go Boating,” directed by Jacques Rivette, and Olivier Assayas’ divisive Kristen Stewart starrer “Personal Shopper.” The latter was described by Variety as “wildly unconventional study of a young American woman going through a spiritual crisis.”

“With ‘Personal Shopper,’ I guess it captured that feeling of horror that you feel in the film, suspense and eeriness, and the intimacy you share with Eva. That really helped me: I drew a lot of inspiration from Kristen Stewart in that movie,” says Morris.

“‘Céline and Julie Go Boating’ is about female friendship. It was interesting because these two [Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto] were already friends in real life, just like me and Hannah. That film has a lot of magical realism as well, so we watched it to get a sense of the playfulness of these two women.”

The Canberra-born actor, who learnt Russian for the role, is hoping to continue working on “very diverse projects,” she states. As well as trying her hand at directing and producing one day.

“I really like learning new skills and immersing myself in new worlds. I act because I am curious about people and relationships. I want to experience what it’s like to live out many, many different existences,” she says.

“I want to work with people who have a unique vision and who are sensitive and collaborative. At the moment, I am drawn to scripts with very natural dialogue. I love long conversations between characters. It really allows you to sink into the scene.”

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