This Brilliant Comedy-Drama Breaks the “Jump Ceiling” in 10 Languages
Here in the west
Rated M, 101 minutes.
In theaters now, and coming to ABC TV.
It is true that Australian cinema barely represents the diversity of Australian society. We have ignored our culture’s greatest success – the peaceful post-war migration revolution – for a narrow portrayal of who we are. To put it more bluntly, white faces run the business and other colors have to fight just to get in the door.
A sign that we had grown as a nation would be more films about the migrant experience – but there’s no guarantee audiences will embrace them just because they’re ‘ethnic’. Most of the films that have crossed the “jump ceiling,” if I can call it that, have been broad comedies with stridently “ethnic” characters, calculated to appeal to a niche community. Dramatic warp and weft stories have been harder to fund and find.
What is extremely clear about Here in the west is that the football-sized teams at work here wanted to create something that grabs and holds our attention. They chose a brave way to do it – an ensemble film, weaving together eight different stories, with eight screenwriters, five directors and 10 different languages – Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Kurdish, Kurmanji, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish, Vietnamese – and English. . It must be a record.
More remarkable is that for the most part they are successful. Here in the west is a captivating comedy-drama. Some parts are uneven, but the best bits are really, really good, like Leah Purcell’s finale, which takes place in a Chinese restaurant that’s about to close. The mother (Gabrielle Chan) has fought for every dollar since leaving Burma; her daughter (Jing-Xuan Chan) wants to move to Melbourne with her non-Chinese boyfriend, breaking her mother’s heart. Purcell’s warmth and humor envelop this story, written by Claire Cao, as it loops many threads.
Purcell and Ana Kokkinos – the most experienced of the directors – give the film a solid rudder. Kokkinos directed or co-directed three stories, each with its own balance and flavor. In each, she works with a different young writer: Matias Bolla, Arka Das (also starring) and Tien Tran. Fadia Abboud directed two stories and Julie Kalceff one – a moving tale by Vonne Patiag about a young Filipino nurse (Christine Milo) working a double shift at a hospital in western Sydney.
The stories begin with Genevieve Lemon as a troubled middle-aged woman abducting the baby her daughter had in prison. This harrowing script, written by Nisrine Amine and directed by Lucy Gaffy, serves as the anchor for the rest of the stories, which take place on the same long day in western Sydney. It’s a smart build, and it helps that there’s only one editor, Martin Connor, keeping the tone consistent throughout.
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