hostages to culture

oliver downes: david pulbrook’s last dance

Last Dance

Last Dance

LAST DANCE OPENS INNOCUOUSLY WITH MRS LIPPMANN (JULIA BLAKE) GOING ABOUT HER BUSINESS ON THE BUSY COMMERCIAL STRIP OF A SUBURB IN INNER-MELBOURNE. IT’S AN AREA WHICH, JUDGING FROM THE ABUNDANCE OF KIPPAS AND BEARDS (NOT TO MENTION THE ‘KOSHER SUSHI’ SHOP), DRAWS ITS CHARACTER FROM ITS JEWISH INHABITANTS, WHILE THE INDUSTRIOUS WIDOW SEEMS THE SORT OF LADY WHO IS FRIENDLY WITH EVERYONE, THOUGH INTIMATE ONLY WITH HER CAT. THEN THERE’S THE SOUND OF SIRENS, THE BUZZ OF PEOPLE EVAPORATES AND A TROUBLED MRS LIPPMANN IS LEFT TO MAKE HER WAY HOME.

Her puzzlement is soon explained when she returns to her brown-brick flat, where she is accosted by Sadiq (Firass Dirani), a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist fleeing from the synagogue where a fellow-terrorist has just blown himself up. Bleeding from a shrapnel wound and unsure of what to do next, Sadiq takes Mrs Lippmann hostage, though as he makes clear to her, “killing you means nothing to me—it simply means ridding the world of one more Jew.”

Last Dance should be applauded for directly confronting the ongoing conflict in Israel and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people, raising questions of moral responsibility within the relatively accessible format of the thriller. Though the initial scenes are painted a touch too heavy-handedly—must every extra be Orthodox?—the Melbourne setting is believable in that the story might play out anywhere in the Judaic diaspora. There are a few surprises: Mrs Lippmann, a Holocaust survivor, though initially repulsed by Sadiq’s hatred and the mindlessness of his indoctrination, is not unready to listen to his story—and when the power dynamic between the pair shifts halfway through the film, her choices are made believable by their shared experience of catastrophic loss.

Without the right performers, director David Pulbrook and co-screenwriter Terence Hammond’s script may well have lost much of its drive. Fortunately, both leads excel here. Dirani, whose roles in TV dramas such as Underbelly and The Straits seem to have prepared him perfectly for the big screen, is superb as the failed suicide bomber, a livewire of impulsive gesture and darkly challenging looks. His brooding energy is magnificently balanced by Blake, the worn planes of her face channelling a seemingly boundless empathy as she is forced to confront her assumptions about Israel and try to reason her way out of a labyrinth of equivocation.

The film is smoothly shot, Pulbrook wisely allowing the performers to carry the story, the camera to linger on their faces. His experience as an editor (Ground Zero, The Cup) ensures that the film maintains a look of smooth professionalism. However, although the performances cannot help but shine through, they are not aided by an obtrusive soundtrack and some of the more overwrought contrivances of the script. Indeed, the script may have benefited from being tested on a stage before being adapted to the screen, given the limitations of the setting. As it is, although Last Dance delves into powerfully emotive territory it veers dangerously close to melodrama, particularly in the third act, so the characters never really developing beyond the necessities of the concept.

Last Dance, director David Pulbrook, producer Antony Ginnane, screenplay David Pulbrook and Terence Hammond, director of photography Lee Pulbrook, Ulah Productions, Becker Group release

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 29

© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 October 2012
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