Details: (M), 90mins, In Cinemas 1 November 2012, Australia, English
Synopsis: When a suicide bombing on a local synagogue goes wrong, wounded terrorist Sadiq Mohammad (Firass Dirani), takes refuge in a nearby apartment. When its owner, Holocaust survivor Ulah Lippmann (Julia Blake), returns home, Sadiq takes her hostage.
Tense, complex drama turns simplistic in final stages.
Both actors give powerful performances
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: If the Australian feature Last Dance sounds like a film you’ve seen before if only you could figure out where, there’s a good reason. According to the internet movie data base (imdb.com), there have been 14 previous films with the same title, many of them released in the last couple of decades, including a Bruce Beresford thriller starring Sharon Stone.
This new Last Dance is not about dancing or choreography, though one scene does feature a dance of sorts. Rather, it’s a hostage drama that uses the Israel-Palestine question, Islamist terrorism, the Holocaust and notions of personal cowardice and forgiveness as its dramatic fuel.
Julia Blake is Ulah Lippmann, an elderly Jewish lady held hostage in her Melbourne flat by an injured terrorist on the run after a deadly bombing of a synagogue. Sadiq Mohammad (Firass Dirani) is a Palestinian who’s not too pleased to find his hostage is Jewish. All the while helicopters and police cars can be heard constantly sweeping the area in the search for the man, who was caught on camera at the scene of the crime.
The set up is a classic pressure cooker situation, working on the principle that locking up two or more people in a confined space is a great way to ratchet up the drama. To further increase the intensity and add psychological complexity, first-time director David Pulbrook (formerly best known as a film editor) and his co-writer Terence Hammond make Ms Lippmann a Holocaust survivor whose son has tragically died while serving in the Israeli armed services. Her captor, as a Palestinian, of course has much to say on this, and the moments where the pair spar over Israel gives the film a lot of juice. What might have sounded like an arid and pointless political lesson comes over instead as
Despite the extreme situation, the pair eventually start to find some common humanity in each other’s situation. It emerges that Mohammad is still alive because of a loss of nerve that left him unable to detonate his suicide belt; Lippmann, meanwhile, can’t help but being seeing parallels with her dead son. (Mohammad calls himself a “soldier”, and while Lippmann scoffs, on a subconscious level the description seems to strike a chord.) Both actors give powerful performances, especially Blake. Always very fine, she is especially impressive here.
But to buy these characters’ tentative move to a mutual understanding, or at least the start of one, the viewer needs to make a humungous leap of faith. It’s a leap I was unable to make and I doubt I will be alone. In terms of credibility, the problematic character is Lippmann, who at a certain point starts to behave in a way that beggars belief. It’s a great shame, because there’s some fine direction here. (Pulbrook proves especially adept at negotiating enclosed spaces.) But taking a situation as complex as this and reducing it to a story about the way we’d all like people to behave doesn’t wash. It results in a humanist fantasy.
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