Year:  2022

Director:  Madeleine Blackwell

Release:  9 November 2023

Distributor: Antidote

Running time: 81 minutes

Worth: $16.00
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Ali Al Jenabi, Imelda Bourke

… simple affecting film …

Australia, like some other Western colonial countries, is well placed to revisit stories of the plight of refugees. We are linked by history and globalised population flows in so many ways, not least of which is direct military engagement. We were, after all, part of the ‘coalition of the willing’ during the Iraq war. But does anyone really recall that war much these days?

Ali (Ali Al Jenabi), the chief protagonist of this simple affecting film certainly does. It is part of his PTSD-affected life every day. He is forced to operate in the grey economy. As the film opens, he is preparing for a night’s taxi driving in a friend’s cab. He starts by chewing gum and sticking it over the internal camera, as he is not licensed to that cab and may not even have the right work visa. As he crawls around the city at night, he picks up an old lady called Esther (Imelda Bourke).

At first, he is simply a bit annoyed that she doesn’t seem to know exactly where she is taking the cab to. Then he begins to realise that she is not just lost but ‘losing it’ mentally. She is crotchety too, accusing him of not knowing how to do his job. What sort of taxi driver is he? Has he even put the meter on? Ali is patient, he is used to the microaggressions of a frequently racist society. Slowly though, the pair start to see what links them and a conversation based on common humanity can emerge. By the end, we feel affection for both characters.

The film is deliberately claustrophobic and small scale. It is a two-hander, whose action takes place almost entirely within the cab. There is nothing wrong with that. Taxi driving films could almost be a sub-genre, and while it concentrates the action, it doesn’t limit the scope of the film’s ambitions. There are big themes here, but they are realised with a deft touch by director Madeleine Blackwell. The level of acting too is right for the film. The players are not there to give big showy performances. This is about a reality hinted at at the edges. In its understated way, this is quite a powerful examination of the various forms of damage that life can bring, and the strategies people must adopt to survive them.