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Australian film on Lebanese gangs talk of the town

An Australian film depicting Lebanese gang life in Sydney's western suburbs has sparked more than a series of reviews.

The film, “The Combination“, was pulled from several cinemas in Sydney after brawls broke out, following the screenings.

The Combination” was eventually re-scheduled, however extra security was added to keep the troublemakers at bay.

Written by and starring Lebanese-Australian actor George Basha, the gangster flick is set in the 2005 Cronulla race riots which saw white supremacist gangs pitted against Australians of Lebanese/Middle Eastern appearance.

The aim of the movie is to portray the real life and pressures facing the Lebanese in Sydney's west. Australians of Lebanese descent number roughly 400,000, a large proportion of whom reside in Sydney's western suburbs.

The controversial film has been the talk of the town, receiving wide media attention.

Australian film critic/blogger, Marc Fennell, gave his thoughts on the film:

Australian Lebanese gangster flick The Combination is special – it’s hooked into the zeitgeist and hit upon something very current and now. Above all things however, it’s marketed itself freakishly well. So far The Combination has been raking in the news coverage left, right and centre. It’s been generating heated comment, um, also from the left, right and centre and it’s even been accused of starting riots.

And all this for a movie that is actually not very good.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Lemme explain. The Combination takes place against the backdrop of the Cronulla Riots. It’s the tale of a Lebanese man (George Basha, also the writer) in Western Sydney who gets back from jail only to discover that his younger brother is shooting down the path that lead him to the big house. (Australian History X??). Meanwhile Basha falls in love with a white girl with racist parents and – judging by her acting ability – a penchant for horse tranquilizers.

I give this movie a serious A+ for ambition. And I mean that quite genuinely. I also LOVE the fact that we finally have a film about Western Sydney that focuses on the non-anglo character.

There are also some elements within this movie that just pop. The way it captures of Lebanese culture – the dancing, the food, the family – is brilliant. The movie just springs to life when these moments come along. And there are a couple of standout performances.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important that The Combination was attempted. It deals with issues that are relevant and important to our time and country – and over time, I suspect that it’ll become an important social document of Australia. I also think that the positive elements in this film are a pretty strong indication that George Basha and Director David Field have got some serious talent. I’d love to see what they come back with next, but for now The Combination only gets 2/5 from me.

Scott Henderson, on his blog Dark Habits, offers a similar review, with a focus on the issues “The Combination” seeks to explore:

It is through Sydney that audience experiences much of the cultural beauty within the Lebanese community, the food, the generosity, dancing in restaurants. Of course it is also through Sydney, and more specifically Sydney’s parents, that we experience some of the social observations about prejudice and xenophobia The Combination contends with. The long and short of the film's non-too subtle remarks being white people assume dark people are Muslims (which is like double points prejudice), Lebanese-Australians are Australians too, older generations don’t help matter by thinking the two should mix in affairs of the heart (“It’s not racist, that’s just the way it is”) and racism is, you know, bad.

Violence proliferates The Combination and the film makes explicit mention of the 2005 Cronulla Riots here in Sydney, during which the action takes place as a background to reference rather than a driving force in the narrative. Fights in school, street stabbings over video games and the tentacles of gang violence in general reach deep into the live's of the main protagonists. These actions (and involvement with drug dealers) are not without their repercussions as some boys go to jail and some to the morgue – violence is not the answer is the resolute message from screenwriter George Basha and director David Field. That is until it is necessary for a narrative exclamation mark of course.

In respect of this central meme of The Combination the film sacrifices much of effort to show the consequences of violence in favour of an act of vigilante justice which says it's okay when someone who deserves much worse instead just gets beaten senseless and humiliated in front of more upstanding members of the community. It is a moment that muddies the message and one showed a lack of courage or thought to go the whole way and complete the circle of violence leaving an ambiguity to the film's ending. Instead The Combination settles for the easy way out, a macho one audiences can really cheer for.

An Australian Muslim blogger, Nurisha Ali at Brisbane Qalam, is impressed by the film's risk-taking:

It’s encouraging to see that individuals are ready to go all out just to make themselves noticed and willing to take the risks. I hope to this movie is available overseas so that everyone else will appreciate the unseen and unheard talents from Australia.

And from a Lebanese in the Middle East, Jad Aoun is not surprised to hear of the brawls at the film's screening:

I guess when you don’t get your way, you resort to violence to protect your dignity and rights. There’s no place like home!

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  • ALEXEMMA

    I find it quite interesting that this film has caused so much comotion. The fact that this real life situation of Lebanese gang life in Sydney’s western suburb is depicted in this movie is a brave move. It is unfortunate that this film has caused many to be upset and become violent. However, i think that this really shows the true nature of the film. Although i have not seen this motion picture, and probably will not get a chance to i wonder what exactly triggered the brawls which broke out after people viewed the film. I agree with Jad Aoun who said, “I guess when you don’t get your way, you resort to violence to protect your dignity and rights. There’s no place like home! Protecting one’s rights and pride in general is often the main cause of all violence and it is understandable why many were offended and resorted to physical action as a result. As i read on BBC news, “The film, which incorporates real news footage from the riots, follows the fortunes of a Lebanese Australian man as he tries to guide his younger brother away from ethnic gang violence.” This article on BBC expains that the film has real news footage which could also have been part of the violence which occured as a result of the movie. The actual footage could have brought the movie to a much more personal level for some viewers, making them have stronger feelings about it.

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