Directed by Roderick MacKay
Starring Ahmed Malek, David Wenham, Baykall Ganambarr, Jay Ryan
The Perth International Arts Festival kicks off its movie season with a film set directly in pre-Federation Western Australia, where our gold rush was kicking in, and the wide array of immigrants were keen to get in on these new riches from this “new” land.
In 1897, young Afghan cameleer Hanif (Ahmed Malek) stumbles upon a wounded Mal (David Wenham) who’s on the run with some gold bullions in his possession. There’s certainly a lot of newness to this entry in Australian cinema, both related to what has come to be known as the “melting pot.” There’s the array of Australia’s earliest immigrants, not only the white settlers, but the Arabic and Asian immigrants that came to the unfamiliar land for newfound fortunes, and there’s the issue of dealing with the gold, which is in the hands of its burglar, but still needs to be taken to a furnace so that the Queen’s crown emblem is removed from each of the bullions.
There’s a kind of delicious irony to this situation. The burglar has the gold, but simply can’t use it. So this trek (through Australia’s good ol’ harsh barren outback) make this a fly-infested adventure that seems hardly exciting or even worth it. Each of these characters (and there are plenty, in fact too many) are similarly on the hunt for these missing bullions, each of them tracking Mal and Hanif closely.
The Furnace plays upon the idea that this kind of greed runs red, not gold. Bloodshed is sure to follow, with plenty of folks killed in cold blood or at least terribly wounded in the film’s first few moments. It’s a violent and rugged Aussie west out there, but despite the newness of these multicultural characters, the film still feels derivative.
The “bloody hunt for riches” tale has long been forged in cinema’s history (The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Wages of Fear, even the movie Gold), though The Furnace brings little new to this story, and its depiction of rough and untrusting colonial Australian living hardly differs from The Tracker, Sweet Country, or last year’s The Nightingale.
The film ends on a conclusion that seems supposedly thematically fitting, though will likely frustrate on a story basis, given that it negates a whole lot of it. But The Furnace, despite its bagginess, does elaborate on a not-often-told part of Australian history, and for that, it makes a worthy contribution to Australian cinema history.
The Furnace plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, November 30 to Sunday, December 6 at 8pm.