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Any movie with the word “felafel” in its title deserves some serious attention. No doubt people would have done one of two things when they heard what the film was called. The would have either a) been very interested in what the movie was all about and probably went along to see it, or b) disregarded it as one of those weird, art house movies that would best be left unwatched. Unfortunately for those in the latter category, they missed out on a quirky little comedy that mixes real life situations with unbelievably eccentric characters with aplomb.

Based loosely on the novel by John Birmingham, He Died With A Felafel In His Hand has earned its fair share of criticism for not staying true to the novel. I have never read the book, but Director Richard Lowenstein has taken choice moments from the story and weaved a lot of his own personality into the narrative to make a particularly different story. As a film on its own the movie holds up, but readers and fans of the book beware; you’ll be in for something quite different.

Danny is an unemployed twenty-something who has lived in more than forty shared houses, each with their own different story. The film picks up at house number 47 in Brisbane, where he lives with his best friend, Sam (a female). Struggling to find love, direction and a meaningful job, Danny is really a guy going nowhere. Couple this with some seriously weird but wonderful housemates and you’ve got the recipe for a strange and interesting story. Watch on as Danny moves from house to house, Sam meets an intriguing girl named Anja, Flip gets stoned and the three of them witness some bizarre occurrences that are sure to raise more than the odd chuckle. There’s nothing going on but at the same time everything is happening, all ending up in Sydney where things come loosely together when he dies with a felafel in his hand.

A singalong....felafel style...
The beauty of this film is that is steers well away from the Australian stereotype of the outback-living, loud-mouthed larrikins that only The Castle could get anywhere near spot on. These characters, while not being the most straight-laced people in the world, still have some sense of realism to them and are remarkably down to earth throughout. There’s some serious dialogue to handle in various places and the whole cast seem to know exactly how to play them. Special kudos must go to the brilliant Emily Hamilton who plays Sam in the understated fashion regular readers will know I absolutely adore. She knows her place in the film and provides a bit of stability to the group before going off the deep end herself. The terribly underrated Sophie Lee has the most hilarious part in the film, playing an overly stressed housemate from hell that has more than her fair share of tantrums. Delivery and timing are both perfect, screaming out for some bigger roles in future comedies. And let’s not forget Flip, played by Brett Stewart, who again steers away from the stereotypical and becomes a stoner with a hint of brains, if there is such a thing.

But the biggest plaudits must go to Noah Taylor who was basically born for this type of role. Surely Lowenstein had him in mind when penning the script as no other Australian could have done it better. Even his pensive look brings out a few giggles here and there which makes his emotional outbursts all the more funny and effective. There’s enough expletives to make Pulp Fiction look like The Sound Of Music but if you don’t mind the old “fire truck” uttered every now and again you won’t be disappointed.

Granted, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere and seems to try a little too hard to mask its emotional effectiveness with some heavy dialogue, but the balance seems to have been struck. You’ll definitely find all the characters at least interesting if not highly entertaining and with some great performances amongst the key players I doubt you’ll look away for a second. Even the all-too-familiar gay guy will have you laughing just because of the absurdity of the situation. And that’s what this movie is; absurd, yet very effective.

The usual suspects...
Presented in 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced, the transfer is quite impressive. Even for a smaller budget flick like this the visuals really do hold up well. Sharpness is maintained throughout and blacks are relatively deep. There is the odd artefact and colours, particularly skin tones, do seem a little muted, but this is probably due more to source material and design choice rather than anything else. I don’t think the film would have been so effective with a myriad of bright, sharp colours so there’s nothing really distracting present at all. Good effort.

There’s a Dolby Digital 5.1 track present but the film is predominantly dialogue driven so there’s not much action on the surround front. A few choice scenes recorded activity in the rears and ambient sounds could be heard faintly in the background somewhere but on the whole the majority of the film take place in the front. Nevertheless, there’s no problem with dialogue and lip-synching stays well away from this disc.

Where this audio mix really comes into its own is the soundtrack. Before I had seen this film I heard many people raving about just how good the tracks in the film actually were. And they were right. Everything from Nick Cave to the Mamas And The Papas is covered here and really does sound good belted out of the speakers. The standout track is probably a familiar one to many. Also part of the Snatch soundtrack, Golden Brown by The Stranglers captures the eerie feel of the film but remains upbeat to maintain the comedy element. Brilliant.

"Maybe I could glue this cigarrette to my finger"
Not much on offer here, unfortunately. All we get is a theatrical trailer. Ho hum. For fans of the film the disc was crying out for a commentary track from the director, the cast, or both. I would have loved to hear about the various problems encountered during filming, as happens in most low budget flicks these days. Sadly, this house has only one occupant.

A different film thanks largely to the novel on which it was based. The performances are exceptional across the board and the story moves along quite nicely without really going anywhere. Watch the film if only to see the banter between a delightful Hamilton and an equally impressive Taylor. Coupled with a decent audio and video mix and despite a practically bare-bones disc, He Died With A Felafel In His Hand is a must see film and a worthy addition to any collection.