6th October 2016 9.00pm at Cineworld Haymarket
7th October 2016 8.45pm at Hackney Picturehouse
8th October 2016 11.00am at Curzon Mayfair
On the morning of Sunday 11th December 2005, a series of race-related riots broke out in the beachside suburb of Cronulla in Sydney, Australia. These riots were triggered by the tensions between the young white and Lebanese populations. The police intervened and it ended in violence.
Down Under begins with shocking footage from this day, and continues with a fictional aftermath created by Abe Forsythe. We meet two separate factions involved in the conflict: one is a gang of idiotic white guys, armed with baseball bats, pumped up by the possibility of beating up some “Lebs”; the other, an equally mindless gang of Lebanese men out to defend their citizenship rights and exact revenge on their white oppressors. Over the course of a single day and night, both gangs ride around in cars picking fights where they can, driven by an absurd sense of patriotic pride and fear of the “other”.
This film is an energetic satire that takes no prisoners; it’s funny, but not without caveats. Forsythe aims to provoke: he understands the structure of humour, and sets up the audience with ample opportunity to laugh at his dunderheaded cast, with their ridiculous vanities and stoner misadventures. Then, he changes the mood in a flash by having something horrible or violent in place of a punchline; you may laugh, but it catches in your throat, choking you.
Chris Morris did something similar in Four Lions, and implicated everyone in its acidic satire. Where that film’s sadistic edge grew tiresome, Down Under roots its story in empathy, underlined by a pathetic sadness. Each side has someone likeable like white stoner Shit-Stick (Alexander England) or Lebanese student Hassim (Lincoln Younes), for every nutter that gets Ned Kelly tattooed on their face – and even these guys aren’t completely demonised. But none escape the violent consequences of their ignorance which, on a national scale, could threaten to tear their country apart.
The uncomfortable comedic tone Forsythe achieves here helps encourage us to overlook big flaws in the film, such as a detour to an arms dealer that is flat-out homophobic, or the shamelessly manipulative presence of Evan (Olympic gymnast Chris Bunton), Shit-Stick’s cousin with Down’s Syndrome. It is the image of crowds on the beach, chanting that they “want their country back”, that gives Down Under its weight and contemporary resonance.
Down Under does not have a UK release date yet.
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Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Down Under here: