THE MERGER,Australia, 2018. Starring Damian Callinan, Kate Mulvaney, John Howard, Fayssal Bazzi, Rafferty Grierson, Josh McConville, Nick Cody, Penny Cook, Angus McLaren, Sahil Saluja, Harry Tseng, Ben Knight. Directed by Mark Grentell. 96 minutes. Rated M (Coarse Language).
Beyond the city of Wagga Wagga, there is the town of Bodgy Creek, in decline, the mill having been closed by campaigns from greenies, the football club buildings to be demolished because of asbestos, the football club itself near collapse. And, not only that, a number of migrants are arriving in the town with some of the diehards of Bodgy Creek dead set against them and the threat of their taking jobs.
At one stage, when some of the migrants have been persuaded that they could play football, some of the locals are interested in where they come from and what their stories are. The new star, Sayeed, a Syrian, mentions that he comes from Aleppo – and one of his friends on the field, consults his phone app, tells him that Aleppo does not come up on Trip Advisor. This is one of the many good lines throughout the film that raise the social issues. And one of the bigoted townies proclaims that they ought learn English, and states that that’s all she aks.
Which means then that The Merger of the title is not just the merging of various football teams to make one which might succeed, but it is also The Australian current merger of asylum seekers and refugees finding a place in society.
In one sense, this film is preaching to the converted, those who want to welcome the newcomers to the land and help them find a place and a refuge. One is not too sure how those who share the opinions of the film’s diehards, those with a One Nationish type policies, would respond to the comic touches with which have political point.
The film is the work of Damien Callinan. It began as a theatre monologue with the actor speaking his lines. Now it has been amplified, taken outside, onto the football fields, throughout the town, homes and shops. While Damien Callinan does play the central role of the top greenie who led the campaign to close the mill, he also plays the former footballer who takes on the task of building up a new team and – we and they hope – to a premiership.
Central to the film is a young boy, a vigorous Rafferty Grierson, whose father has been killed in a motorbike accident. He is making his own documentary film, focusing on Damien with a touch of hero-worship and searching for a father-figure, along with his strong-minded mother, Kate Mulvaney. The dead father’s own father, literally nicknamed Bull, and played with force by John Howard, leads the reactionary group in the town.
We are introduced to quite a number of migrants, many with qualifications in their home country, trying to find jobs in the new country, trying to settle in, make friends – not always easy.
They are persuaded to play football and, gradually, they all combine with the locals to form a team – as well as contribute to business development in the town.
People mention such Australian comedies as The Castle and The Dish in connection with The Merger. In the same vein, the touch of spoof and satire, some engaging dialogue with Australian accent and tones, and an appeal, in football and political terms, for fair play.
Umbrella Films Released September 6th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.