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Australia 2009
Directed by
Serhat Caradee
100 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Cedar Boys

Synopsis: Tarek (Les Chanterey) works as panel beater, lives at home in Sydney’s Western suburbs and on the weekends goes clubbing with his Lebanese buddies. When one of them comes up with a plan to rob a drug dealer Tarek sees an opportunity to break out of his going-nowhere life. Sometimes a quiet life isn’t so bad.

Australian films regularly have a self-conscious quality that can commercially work for or against them. The sweetly-exaggerated Strine of The Castle (1997) or the eucalypt-scented nostalgia of Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) belong to the former group but more realistic efforts that draw on specific experiences, typified by films such as Home Song Stories (2007) tend to be undeservedly ignored by home-grown audiences. Certainly Cedar Boys draws its story from the Lebanese community of Sydney’s Western suburbs, but it is a remarkable for an Australian film insofar as it does not rely on local colour or vernacular for effect so much as story-telling muscle. It is even more remarkable as its writer-director, AFTRS graduate, Serhat Caradee, is making his feature debut. Perhaps having Dee MacLachlan, the South African-born director of 2007’s break-out film, The Jammed, as a mentor is significant in this respect for both films share a dramatic intensity that transcends their specific geographical and cultural coordinates with Cedar Boys having a maturity that belies its director’s relative inexperience.

The great strength of Caradee's film is the way it flows so beautifully on all levels. David Field’s The Combination, which released earlier this year to little audience appreciation, also dealt with similar material in a similar setting but it stumbled with a rather emblematic handling of its material, particularly in dealing with the cross-cultural romance between its main Lebanese protagonist and his Caucasian girlfriend. Caradee however deftly works his equally heart-felt themes into his well-observed script in terms of both plot and dialogue, never labouring his points. His characters are convincingly drawn, narratively effective and realized with winning naturalism by the leads. Les Chanterey as the main focal point, Tarek, the young man yearning for acceptance by mainstream White society is well offset by Buddy Dannoun and Waddah Sari as his Lebbo mates, Nabil and Sam, whilst a Nicole Kidman-esque Rachel Taylor is spot-on in a small but attention-catching performance as his meretriciuos girlfriend. Caradee’s directing, aided by fine cinematography by Peter Holland and first-class editing by Suresh Ayyar (the closing sequence is particularly effective) is, once again for a newcomer, remarkably confident.

I made the comparison in my review of The Combination, but it is even more relevant here. Cedar Boys is every bit as good as this year’s surprise hit, Gran Torino. What it doesn’t have, of course, is Clint Eastwood and it is Australian (cinema buffs may also think of 1995's La Haine about a trio of "ghetto-ized" youth in Paris who get out of their depth). So it’s likely to have a short theatrical run before going to DVD. Unseen, some may be prone to dismiss Cedar Boys as just another yarn about dudes behaving badly out West but the appeal of this film is not so much in what it tells us as how it does it. In that respect it is one of the best films of its kind yet made in Australia and hopefully it will achieve the recognition it deserves internationally that it probably will not get on its home soil.





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