Review: The Combination
Directed by David Field, In cinemas now
THE COMBINATION is the story of a contemporary Lebanese family in urban Australia. Shot on location mainly in Guildford, western Sydney, the film is based on real events and real people. Many of the actors have had eventful pasts which translate well into the story of the film which, to varying degrees, is their story.
John Morkos (George Basha) has just left prison and returns to his Lebanese family home to rejoin his mother Mary (Doris Younane) and brother Charlie (Firass Dirani). Eager to resume a “normal” post-gaol life, John gets a job as a cleaner at the nearby gym.
Soon after, he meets Sydney (Clare Bowan), a white Australian woman who he introduces to his family and to Lebanese culture at the disapproval of her racist parents. At this point, John’s brother Charlie is lured by a local underworld figure and agrees to sell a supply of drugs together with his best friend, the hot-headed gang leader, Zeus (Ali Haider).
For their commitment, Charlie and Zeus are given guns and a death threat in case they dishonour the agreement. With both boys now possessing guns, ongoing school punch-ups with Scott (Vaughn White) and his racist white gang rapidly intensify.
The dramatic climax comes in the club scene when Zeus pulls out his gun and takes aim at Scott. The music stops, the dance floor is cleared. He demands that Scott tell him he’s Australian. Scott complies immediately with a desperate remorse, but Zeus is not satisfied. He pulls the trigger…
Racial identity is exalted and becomes definitive in times of intense racism. For many people in the western suburbs of Sydney this is a way of life, a struggle waged everyday in order to live meaningful lives. Set against the backdrop of the Cronulla Riots, The Combination illustrates the realities of being a Lebanese youth in a climate of racist bigotry and violence.
This racism breeds disillusionment with society. Drug dealer Ibo (Michael Denkha), to whom the boys are completely expendable, exploits the boys’ disillusionment but is far from sentimental. Indeed, he kills Charlie himself with a shotgun.
Some memorable quotes:
John to Sydney: This country was built on racism! … Like that Mundine-Green fight! Do you think that has anything to do with boxing?? No! It’s about the black man fighting against the white man!
Scott: We grew here, you flew here…
Yas: You came in chains, we came in planes.
The most striking feature of the film is its raw, unpretentious portrayal of real life. It gives a voice to ethnic minorities everywhere regardless of their background, and gives expository relief to those grappling with the issue of race in their own neighbourhoods.
The Combination addresses police intimidation, and cuts against the victim-blaming so prevalent in the mainstream media.
George Basha, also the script writer, seems to be pushing a message through his character, John, about the need for positive role models to remind youths about their “choices”. In reality, systematic racism and ethnic tensions fill up the spaces where many of these options might have existed.
In other words, a broad, united front against racism consisting of people of all ethnic backgrounds is what is needed to create real gains, real empowerment, and edge towards a sense of self determination.
The actual process of making this film is an example of this empowerment, and an effective social experiment in its own right. Most of the actors live similar lives to the characters they portray and were selected for their roles on this basis.
In an interview published on the film’s website, first time actor Vano Rafik (plays Yas), comments on the director, David Field’s role in restoring his confidence: “David gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity. He put all the confidence in the world in me. He showed me that I can do it and that I can be something better.”
The film was welcomed by many community organisations, because it emphasised the lack of direction and the shortage of community leaders who can bridge the generation gap and also understand how racism works in the suburbs. As long as racism continues to occupy the thoughts of those who do not benefit from it, the need to broaden the fight to destroy racist ideas will remain as crucial as ever.
By Tony Bozdagci