Saturday, August 15, 2009

Film review: Cedar Boys

Director: Serhat Caradee
Cast: Les Chantery, Buddy Dannoun, Waddah Sari
Country: Australia
Year: 2009

A big hit at the Sydney Film Festival this year, Cedar Boys sees first-time feature writer-helmer Serhat Caradee join the ranks of filmmakers attempting to take the path less explored of Australia’s non-white (sub)urban experience. As the film’s title suggests, Caradee story focuses on young Lebanese men, though to call them such would be misleading as these are just boys waking the fine line of responsible adulthood and the recklessness naivety of youth. So of course, because no one seems to have an original idea for how to tell these stories, we find ourselves in the territory of crime, drugs and gangs again in what is a very competent, if obvious, drama.

Les Chantery plays Tarek, a young Lebanese-Australian lad who makes what little cash he can as a panel beater whilst living at home with his parents and little sister. At night Tarek can be found cruising around in his mate Nabil’s (Buddy Dannoun) car or getting turned away from upscale clubs because their money’s not green enough and their skin’s not white enough. Tarek’s a good kid who finds himself tempted by another life in Sydney, one of big houses in the Eastern suburbs and flashy white girls who drink champagne. Furthermore, Tarek’s has a brother in the clink with no money left for his appeal. It’s enough for the young lad to compromise his character and get involved with Nabil’s plan to rip off a dealer’s stash and use their hustler mate Sam (Waddah Sari) to shift the pills.

Thus Caradee embarks on a moral tale about kids who think getting rich quick the illegal way will come without consequences. The director tells his story well and there is just enough room for one more western suburbs story after David Field’s The Combination earlier this year. But with those films and Shawn Seet’s boxing drama Two Fists, One Heart it’s starting to feel like the only immigrant stories involve criminals, boys from the wrong side of the tracks and love stories with white Aussie girls. Are there no young Lebanese women in this world we're being served?

Unfortunately not, and until Australian filmmakers start trying to tell their stories without the baggage of imitating American urban filmmakers’ gangland-immigrant tales it’s going to continue to feel like old ground revisited. That there are gifted writers, directors and actors out there to explore the cultural concerns of these groups and that they are being giving the opportunities to do so is undeniably a good thing; Cedar Boys is a decent enough showcase for this talent, but let’s see something fresh, imaginative, original.

What Cedar Boys demonstrates is that on a small budget with the Red hi-def cam you can make a film that looks great and captures an Australia city and outer suburbs in a way that is at times menacing and others magical. Go see Cedar Boys, it is accomplished work featuring an incredible cast (Rachael Taylor, Martin Henderson, Daniel Amalm) by a filmmaker with a bright future.


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