Tyler De Nawi, Danny Elacci, Buddy Dannoun, Jacqui Purvis
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…a mini-miracle of local filmmaking.
The searing new Australian drama, A Lion Returns, kicks off with a near-thirty-minute dialogue scene in the back of a parked car. It’s a bold, daring, potentially-audience-losing opening gambit, but the dialogue is so heightened and thematically packed that it explosively sets up what is to come, and lets the viewer know immediately that this is not a film that will offer any concessions or easy options. A Lion Returns is the second feature film from gifted Australian writer/director Serhat Caradee – who debuted way back in 2009 with the powerful drama thriller Cedar Boys – and it tackles a rolling swathe of Godfather-style themes, burning hot and very, very slowly toward a shattering climax.
The two men in the back of the car are Middle Eastern Muslim-Australian brothers Jamal (Tyler De Nawi) and Omar (Danny Elacci), and they couldn’t be more different. The sensible and measured Omar is a university lecturer specialising in Middle Eastern studies, while the jittery, emotionally fraying Jamal has just returned from Syria, where he threw in his lot with a terrorist group, and may or may not have been directly involved with the killing of innocents. Their opening conversation stutters and pops with all of the elements that make the experiences of those of Middle Eastern heritage living in Australia so complex. On the run from the police, Jamal desperately wants to see his dying mother (Helen Chebatte), and Omar is the gatekeeper. Jamal’s actions have brought great shame on the family, as well as isolating his Anglo-Australian wife, Heidi (Jacqui Purvis), and their young son. As Omar tries to convince his father (Taffy Hany) to speak with his errant son, Jamal is left open to the promptings of his quietly radical uncle Yahya (Buddy Dannoun), which lights the fuse on what will become nothing less than a powder keg of emotion.
Shot in a staggering ten days on finances raised through crowd-funding, A Lion Returns is a mini-miracle of local filmmaking. It’s also an excellent piece of cinema outside of its incredible production history. The performances are uniformly excellent (Buddy Dannoun, however, is an undeniable standout), with the actors digging deep and excavating all of the requisite emotion from their incredibly fraught, torn-up characters. Serhat Caradee displays a resolute command of his material from beginning to end, not only getting his exposition-heavy dialogue to thunder and flow naturally, but also maintaining an air of near-unbearable tension. A Lion Returns deals with major, headline-level Australian issues but sensibly and skillfully distils them into an arena that can anyone can relate to: family. The result is a volatile, extraordinarily well-crafted treatise on the dangers of extremism, and how the bonds with the ones that you love can bring it undone.
A Lion Returns will premiere at a special screening at The Ritz Cinema in Sydney on October 15 before opening in cinemas on November 5. For all information about the screening at The Ritz Cinema, head to the official website.