Last Dance: Melbourne Review

Small-scale drama packs a big punch.  

Julia Blake and Firass Dirani star in a taut, low-budget hostage thriller from Australia.

MELBOURNE – Two personalities at utter cross-purposes are claustrophobically tucked inside a dimly lit interior in David Pulbrook’s low-budget hostage drama Last Dance. Ratcheting up the tension are top-notch performances from veteran actress Julia Blake (Innocence, Human Touch) as an elderly Holocaust survivor and handsome up-and-comer Firass Dirani (Underbelly) as the Palestinian terrorist who takes her captive in her own apartment after a botched suicide bombing at a local synagogue.

Co-funded by the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Premiere Fund, this carefully put together, humanistic thriller grapples intelligently with a hot-button international issue. The Australian production, Pulbrook’s first outing as a director after a solid editing career, can expect a good festival run following its MIFF bow and arthouse crowds should appreciate its simmering intensity when it releases domestically later this year.

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The clanging of trams in the opening scene marks the setting as multicultural Melbourne, but the vexing complexities of the conflict in the Middle East resonate globally, as does the ability of compassion to rise above all. Sadiq Mohammad (Dirani) is on the run after fleeing an inner-city bombing attack that has felled many innocent people along with a fellow radical. As sirens wail and search helicopters buzz overhead, the gravely wounded young man bundles Jewish widow Ulah Lippman (Blake) into her home and prepares to hide out as he awaits instructions.

But the spirited elderly victim moves quickly through terror to indignation and disgust and so begins a battle of wills as the two set forward their opposing ideologies and argue over the meaning of the term “soldier.” Menacing at first, Sadiq reveals enough of himself to allow Mrs. Lippman’s maternal instinct to take over when he collapses from his shrapnel wound and, rather than escaping, she nurses him back to health while fending off interest from the authorities and a meddlesome neighbor (Alan Hopgood).

A practically airtight screenplay, an eight-year-long collaboration between Pulbrook and first-time scripter Terence Hammond, allows a supremely unlikely bond to develop organically, with revelations about their individual pasts revealing shared sorrows. It is to the credit of the two leads, who carry what is essentially a two-hander, and to Pulbrook’s shrewd camerawork that the film remains dramatically absorbing to the end.

Venue: Melbourne International Film Festival

Production company: Ulah Films

Cast: Julia Blake, Firass Dirani, Danielle Carter

Director: David Pulbrook

Screenwriters: David Pulbrook, Terence Hammond

Producer: Antony I. Ginnane

Executive producers: William Fayman, Ann Lyons, Peter deRauch

Director of photography: Lee Pulbrook

Production designer: Les Binns

Costume designer: Louise McCarthy

Music: Michael Allen

Editor: Phil Reid

Sales: Becker Film Group

No rating, 90 minutes

 

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