Cedar Boys

Starring Les Chantery, Rachael Taylor, Buddy Dannoun, Waddah Sari, and Bren Foster. Directed by Serhat Caradee.
Rated MA 15+ (Drug themes, frequent coarse language and violence). 101 mins.

This movie was very popular at the recent (2009) Sydney International Film Festival, and it is not hard to know why. Sarhat Caradee, an Australian of Turkish descent, weaves a tightly structured film around compelling social themes, and does so in a warm and touching way.  The film is an authentic, realistic mix of violence, very coarse language, and genuine human affection.

The film follows the life of three young Lebanese men in Sydney’s western suburbs. It bears some similarity to the recent movie, “The Combination”, which was set in the same area and which involved conflict between members of the Lebanese community and those around them, but it substantially differs from that film. This is a movie about the drama, and tragedy, that unfold around wanting to belong and to be accepted. It airs and illustrates racial conflict, but prejudice is not its main theme. The men in the movie are captured by appearances. They struggle for acceptance by the wider community, that beckons to them beyond their reach, and which occupies their fantasies. Essentially, the movie’s main goal is to foster greater cultural understanding. It achieves that end, and fights strongly against racial stereotyping.

Tarek (Les Chantery) is living at home with his family. His good mates are Nabil (Buddy Dannoun) , a contract cleaner, and Sam (Waddah Sari), a small-time drug-dealer. Tarek goes regularly to the nightspots of Sydney to escape the weariness of the Western Suburbs and to satisfy his fantasy for a better life. Jamal (Bren Foster), Tarek’s older brother, is in prison, and can’t find the funds to pay for his appeal. Nabil comes up with a plan to steal a stash of Euro Ecstasy pills from a dealer, and he urges Tarek and Sam to help him. The plan is to get rich quickly, but it also enables Tarek to satisfy the expensive tastes of Amie (Rachael Taylor), who he sees (mistakenly) as part of the same upwardly socially mobile crowd that he wants to belong to. Money will bring him things in life he wants, and it will help pay for his brother’s appeal. The dealer they steal from is subsequently put behind bars, following their own tip-off to the police to trap him, and the plan enables them to make off with the drugs, which they sell. Not surprisingly, the scheme unravels, and they are pursued by criminal thugs who want the drugs and money back, and who seek vengeance. There is a promise made to Jamal in prison that Tarek won’t be harmed, but one knows that it will be broken. The result is a shoot-out, and subsequent prison pay-back, which provide a very tense and violent finale to the film.

This is a thriller with a social message that maintains solid tension throughout; violence is nearly always there at the edge, and erupts from time to time. Direction, photography, and music in this film are beautifully integrated, and their combined impact is due to the director’s intelligent preference for completely naturalistic control, and sharp editing. The acting in the movie is uniformly excellent and very realistic, and the film is directed with a great deal of humanity by the person who co-produced it and wrote the screenplay (Serhat Caradee). Caradee is a director who lovingly cares for the community he portrays and it shows. He keeps a firm hand on the direction at all points, and the film powerfully explores the frustrations of multicultural aspirations, and the seductiveness of a drug-taking culture. One suspects, however, that the social significance of what Caradee really wants to say loses out in the end to the action appeal of the final scenes of violent retribution and gangland warfare.

This is a sophisticated, quality Australian movie, which draws the significance of “Cedar” in its title from the Old Testament, borrowing the connotations of its rich meaning (symbolizing glory, strength, and righteousness) from the culture of Lebanon. The movie is a tribute to all those who helped bring its story so sensitively to the screen.

Mushroom Pictures (Hoyts)   Out July 30, 2009

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the National Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.


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