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the combination: gauging rage

megan carrigy


The Combination The Combination
WHEN VETERAN AUSTRALIAN ACTOR DAVID FIELD SOLD A SECOND-HAND CAR TO ONE OF GEORGE BASHA’S FRIENDS, GEORGE TOOK THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW DAVID THE DRAFT OF HIS SCRIPT FOR THE COMBINATION. THEY HIT IT OFF AND TOGETHER SPENT SIX YEARS TRYING TO FUND THE FILM THROUGH THE TRADITIONAL CHANNELS. EVENTUALLY, SCRIPT EDITOR, JOHN PERRIE, SECURED A PRIVATE INVESTOR FOR THE FILM AND BECAME ITS PRODUCER, LEARNING TO NEGOTIATE THIS NEW ROLE WHILE ON THE JOB.

The Combination has a gutsy rawness about it that seems to be connected to the fact that it was realised through these unconventional channels and networks, facilitating the film’s successful integration of emerging and experienced players.

The veteran players involved in The Combination have themselves mostly taken on new roles or new approaches for this film. This is David Field’s directorial debut after an acclaimed acting career stretching over more than 25 years and extensive experience as a dramaturg. It also marks George Basha’s debut as screenwriter and leading actor. However his insights into the events portrayed in the film, based on his own experiences of growing up in Western Sydney, are integral to its power.

The team has achieved a great deal with a $1.3 million budget. The Combination is one of the first feature films in Australia shot with the revolutionary Red digital camera system and the cinematographer, Toby Oliver, has made a very good-looking film in the process of pioneering this new technology. Ken Sallows, a well-respected industry veteran, has done what he does best and cut the film together with a tight and powerful visual economy.

This is only the second film to be distributed by the new company, Australian Film Syndicate, launched in September last year, headed up by the co-founders of the Dungog Film Festival, Stavros Kazantizidis and Allanah Zitserman. The Combination has achieved strong box office performance for the company, taking well over $500,000 in limited release around the country, mostly at Greater Union cinemas.

Unusually extensive media coverage has contributed to the success of the film. The Combination attracted a great deal of attention in its opening weeks, generating bold headlines and plenty of controversy.

A lot of the discussion that has taken place in the media about the film has, however, focused on events that have occurred off-screen. Three days after its release, Greater Union suspended screenings of The Combination from its cinemas after a security guard and an usher were assaulted and a fight broke out during the credits at one of the screenings in Parramatta. Ali Haidar, who plays Zeus in the film, was sentenced to six months jail for his role in a bashing on George Street in Sydney not long into the film’s run. These are definitely the kinds of events that get the mainstream media going.

Although distressed by these events and Greater Union’s three-day suspension of the film in NSW, the filmmakers have, on the whole, been delighted by the high profile publicity. This hype, however, has mostly sensationalised the very same stereotypes that the film itself is trying to investigate and complicate. Gang violence, racism, rage and revenge in Western Sydney, The Combination faces all of these issues unflinchingly.

Shot around Parramatta, Guildford, Granville and Merrylands, The Combination introduces us to John Morkos (played by Basha), a Lebanese-Australian man recently released from a two year stint in gaol and determined to straighten out his life, only to discover that his high-school-aged younger brother Charlie (Firas Dirani) is caught up in the same web of violence and crime that put him behind bars—leading some critics to dub the film Australian History X.

There is also an awkward love story between John and an Anglo-Australian girl, Sydney (Clare Bowen), which remains the film’s least sophisticated exploration of race relations. Unlike the rest of the film, it relies on the clichés rather than diving in and unpacking them.

It’s the lives of the two brothers, however, that form the central core of the film around which all else circulates. Both actors are riveting in their roles, as is Ali Haidar as Zeus, the leader of the bad crowd that Charlie gets involved with at school. Together, these three characters present three different potential outcomes for those struggling with the lures of violence, crime and drugs.

The Combination is a raw examination of the choices we make and how we live with the consequences. All the characters in the film have at least one difficult choice to make about the direction their life is heading. They are choices that mean risking their life, facing gaol, losing loved ones or being disowned by family. Some characters make those choices fully aware of the consequences of their actions; others make them without really thinking them through.

In a critical scene between John and his mother, Mary (Doris Younane), he insists that the choices he and his brother have made have been their own. As she despairs, he tells her that she cannot attribute the blame for their bad decisions to bad influences. Whatever the consequences, he argues, they are each ultimately responsible for their own actions. It’s an intense and interesting moment in a film that has spent a lot of time exploring the complex web of events that lead up to the devastating consequences that he and his brother must face.

The dramatic narrative structure of The Combination powerfully weaves together the dilemmas of the characters as they orbit each other, bear witness, clash and ricochet off one another, the choices each makes knocking on to other characters. Collision courses have been carefully honed without being predictable. Some of the events are truly shocking and the resolution we get is not the one we might have thought we were heading for.

Rage is a strong driving force in The Combination with John, Charlie and Zeus as three very different portraits of the condition, giving the film an intense momentum. John and Zeus, in particular, have rage on tap. The film helps us understand why as we watch it rise and fall, always ready to boil over as each character channels fury in different ways, and with very different consequences.

The Cronulla riots occur towards the end of the film’s narrative, and all the characters are suddenly glued to their television sets, watching in surprise, horror and disbelief. The reference is late, fleeting, an aside. It has no direct impact on the events of the narrative and barely enters the dialogue. Indeed, the riots themselves were not an inspiration for Basha’s script. When the Cronulla riots erupted in 2005, his plans for this film were already well formed and underway.

The film’s negotiation of this event is interesting. Keeping the riots oblique but still a reference point gives us the space to think through the connections for ourselves, helping us understand howThe Combination contributes to an ongoing, unresolved dialogue still taking place on our screens, in our homes, on our streets and in our everyday lives.


The Combination, director David Field, writer George Basha, cinematography Toby Oliver, editor Ken Sallows, producer John Perrie, distributor Australian Film Syndicate, 2009

RealTime issue #90 April-May 2009 pg. 28

© Megan Carrigy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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