Pushing mateship into black comedy

Wednesday, June 12, 1991

Death in Brunswick
Written and directed by John Ruane
Rated M
Reviewed by Angela Matheson

Sam Neill is Carl, a downwardly mobile loser caught in the seamier side of life in ethnic inner-city Melbourne. Newly appointed as chef in a seedy night club, Carl gets into deep water when his drug-dealing Turkish kitchen hand terminally runs himself through on the sausage fork.

Critics have slammed the film, claiming Carl reinforces the tired stereotype of the pathetic male — epitomised by Norman Gunstan and Alvin Purple — whom we are supposed to identify with precisely because he is a lovable bungler.

But unlike Norman and Alvin, whose patheticness appears to be inherent, Carl's wimpishness is hilariously exposed as the product of a repressive, religion-dominated childhood. Even the play's nice guy, Dave (John Clarke), advises Carl to murder his mother.

The critics slap Eurocentric prejudices upon the film. Carl is an Anglo loser in a landscape of Greeks, Turks and Lebanese. To see Carl as the principle subject is to misread the film. The film is as much about the subculture of Brunswick, with its griminess and multicultural tensions, as it is about the anti-hero who wanders into its midst.

Death in Brunswick adds a new edge to Australian film. Aussie mateship is pushed to its furthest conclusion, and the result is black and comic. Mateship demands that Carl's grave-digger mate risk his marriage, become an accessory to crime and smash up a corpse.

Wonderful moments from low-income Australia make the film. Carl showering in his grotty bathroom with its time-bomb hot water heater is set in opposition to the sexual encounter with Sophie (Zoe Carides) in her pristine Greek lounge room crowded with crystal cabinets and religious icons.

Don't be misled by what you've been told about this film.

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