Noah Taylor Emily Hamilton
HE DIED WITH A
IN HIS HAND
Romane Bohringer III III Sophie Lee
An adaptation from the novel by John Birmingham
Some people will do anything to get out of paying the rent
Director: Richard Lowenstein (Scriptwriter)
Producer: Andrew McPhail
Cinematography: Andrew De Groot
Art Director: Rebecca Cohen
Production Designer: Iain Aitken
Editing: Richard Lowenstein
Sound: Ben Osmo
Costumes: Meg Gordon
Casting: Alison Barrett
Production Companies: Notorius Films (Australia)
Noah Taylor as Danny
Emily Hamilton as Sam
Romane Bohringer as Anya
Sophie Lee as Nina
Alex Menglet as Taylor
Brett Stewart as Flip
Damien Walsh-Howling as Milo
Ian Hughes as Iain
Francis McMahon as Dirk
Robert Rimmer as Derek
Sayuri Tanoue as Satomi Tiger
Tim Robertson as Suit
Running Time: Approx. 107 minutes
Release: Australian ö Village Roadshow
- August 30th 2001
Italian ö Fandango Distribution
- September 2001
Felafel debuted at No.10 at the Australian Box Office, and remained in the top 20 films for a period of 4 weeks. After that time it dropped out of the top 20 and was largely forgotten on the Australian cinema landscape.
It pulled $580,416 (AUD) overall.
iNTERviews with the Film-makers:
Can be found on the web at:
rEViews of the Film:
Can be found on the web at:
Sources for film Information:
He Died With A Felafel In His Hand Official Website (as above)
The Internet Movie Database
'Actually, 23 beers will not improve your judgment'
- John Birmingham
He Died With A Felafel In His Hand was based on the book by John Birmingham by the same name. Lowenstein worked with John on the script for the film from early 1995.
John Birmingham has lived with eighty-nine people and kept notes on all of them. This is their story.
'A rat died in the living room at King Street and we didn't know. There was at least six inches of compacted rubbish between our feet and the floor. Old Ratty must have crawled in there and died of pleasure. A visitor uncovered him while groping about for a beer!'
Lowenstein credits the creation of a central character for the film, Danny, to an amalgamation of himself, Birmingham and the lead actor Noah Taylor. Taylor previously worked with Lowenstein on their 1986 movie Dogs in Space.
Australian films have always been on the outer when one thinks of great or classic movies, rather they have always been considered as sideshows to the bigger stage. They have so often been lost amongst the landscape of American cinema, and to a lesser degree the European equivalent. But in 2001, something dramatic shifted in the conceptions of Australian Cinema, suddenly Australian movies were somewhere much closer to centre stage. A light had appeared on the Australian film industry that hadn't been there through the previous three decades. Moulin Rouge was up for an academy award (one of our first since Shine) and Lantana was widely embraced as one of the best films for the year, let alone it was Australian. Another film though filled the mix somewhere behind these two stand-out films, though was not a lesser film for it. He Died With A Felafel In His Hand the film adaptation from John Birmingham's book of the same name, contains such lofty themes as love, friendships and the problem of existence, while pertaining to the horror of share-housing based on Birmingham's experiences. Felafel gained widespread good reviews, for not only its themes, but also the entire look of the film itself (It was shot on 35mm, and is one of the best looking films I have seen) and is a good example of the direction the Australian film industry seems to be taking. These films demand respect. Director Richard Lowenstein's subtly powerful vision of the book, is mirrored by the acting of Noah Taylor and the rest of the cast in displaying the ranging band of mis-fits that litter Danny's (the main character) life. Felafel is a engaging, thought-provoking film that takes the viewer on the same bumpy incident-prone road that the characters take themselves.
"We found him on a bean bag with his chin resting on the top button of a favourite flannelette shirt. He'd worn the shirt when we'd interviewed him for the empty room a week or so before. We really took this guy in desperation. He wasn't A-list, didn't have a microwave or anything like that, and now both he and the felafel roll were cold. Our first dead housemate. At least we'd got some bond money off him..."
Danny (Noah Taylor) is living in the 47th shared house of his late twenties. By now he is completely obsessed with all the classic male existential dilemmas and the icons that they entail, and is continually trying to make some sense of the bizarre and unexpected strangeness one can only get by living with a random series of strangers. The film begins in the tropical, testosterone-riddled environment of Brisbane, where cane-toad golf and bucket-bongs are essential parts of living. The house is run-down and grotty, much like Danny himself, complete with meat patties on the ceiling. One housemate sleeps in a tent in the lounge room, so as to escape full rent. The other members of the house are a disgruntled mob of mis-fits and albino moon-tanners, and Danny's only real relationships are with the only female housemate Sam (Emily Hamilton), and his thoughtful, though slightly dim-witted mate Flip (Brett Stewart), who spends most his time gaining moon-tans and gazing at the cashmere sweater babes across the street. Danny decides to save himself by writing the ultimate existentialist novel but spends most of his time staring at a white page in his type writer and at the ultimately uninspiring words : ãBlack is the ultimate·Black eclipses everythingä. However the arrival of Anya (Rohmane Bohringer) and a Miami Vice style rental dilemma, throws his life and the house he is living in completely off track. Danny enters a contest for the attention of the mysterious Anya, and this along with a bizarre sacrifice ritual, that involves hacking the back wall of the house off with a chainsaw, sees Danny depart company with them and head for Melbourne and share-house number 48.
Melbourne is rain, sleet and trigger-happy police, along with Iain, a Government conspiracy expert on such things as 2 litre juice bottles that are 2cm too short to fit his dried linguine, who encourages Danny to 'Fight the power'. Danny, who by now has taken on the character of the city as opposed to Brisbane, is followed shortly by his previous housemates in Taylor and Flip. Taylor admits his undying devotion to gambling and prostitutes, whilst Flip, Danny's quiet but greatest friend besides Sam, is exposed as a hapless drug-addict. Its not long before Sam arrives hopeless and upset, post-break up with Anya and their strangely hospitable friendship is rekindled. After Sam's suicide attempt they have sex. This development however is interrupted by the interrogating tactics of a pair of philosophising Detectives, who are trying to find the culprits for the Brisbane damages and ends in Iain being rushed to hospital from a rashly fired bullet. These incidents combined and the knowledge that the Victorian police shoot to kill causes Danny to head to Sydney and share house number 49.
Sydney is again unlike anything seen before in the film. Here Danny comes up against a 'Melrose on Acid' meets a 'Hetero-Facist Sterility Conspiracy' lifestyle dilemma in a city that is busily re-inventing itself into a new Los Angeles with ocean views. The over-riding colour is white and before long Nina and Dirk, Danny's new housemates have become the meaning for the phrase 'Hell is other people'. Its not long before Danny is once again followed by Sam and Taylor, who now seems to do nothing other than cook, as well as Anya and his old mate Flip. Sam and Anya re-unite, an event with an inevitably destructible end, and Danny confines himself to his room. Throughout this Danny is trying to make it to share-house number 50 without having a nervous breakdown, though the newly voiced homosexual Dirk and the increasingly uptight Nina, along with the bedroom antics of his once good friend Sam and the still-mysterious Anya are making it impossible to do so. In amongst this nightmare, Danny is dragged kicking and screaming into an emotional upheaval that finally points the way to his own salvation. Flips death gives the film its name, and is the jolt that Danny needs to rid himself of his emotional limbo and provides some answers for his previously never-ending question about existence. After this Danny deposits his once fabled typewriter in the river and is finally ready for a more mature and open relationship with his greatest friend Sam.
He Died With A Felafel In His Hand is a roving character-driven movie, that takes the viewer not only through the highs and lows, not to mention the horrors, of share-housing but also the emotional journey of friendship, love and the problematic question of existence. Danny is the centre of the strange universe that he inhabits and is emotionally unable to rid himself of the thoughts that have put him there. In this way, Danny is an almost opposite of the normal hero that is so often evident in Australian films, in other words, Danny is no Mick Dundee and by no means is he anything like the classic hero Mad Max. Danny does not know where he is going, and he has even less idea why he is going there, though despite this, Danny's attempt to become a writer displays his want to get out of the 'hell' that he finds himself in, and through this the viewer is able to connect with his disgruntled anti-hero persona. Danny's quest for some kind of meaning in his life evolves around his strangely hospitable friendship with Sam (they spend odd hours talking and staring at the ceiling, but never at themselves), and this seems to have ended in Brisbane when Sam is seduced by Anya's mysterious actions. This is the last straw it seems, (though the back wall is chain-sawed off the house) and Danny leaves for the Kafkaesque mess of Melbourne. Sam turns up however, post break up with Anya and their friendship is rekindled somewhat, the kind of friendship that is so emotionally void, that Sam attempts suicide. After this moment, Danny finally expresses feelings toward Sam and they have sex. This development is then in turn defused by a pair of philosophising Detectives that continually state that 'Their civil liberties are about to be violated', ending in the shooting of Danny's Government conspiracy driven housemate Iain. Danny, who is now once again pushed back into his emotionally retarded shell, leaves for Sydney. Here he is slowly dragged kicking and screaming into an emotional upheaval that finally points the way to his own salvation, though it is the death of his mate Flip and not the words from Sam that bring him to this point. In this way Flip's death provides Danny's turning point and answers the problematic question of existence that for so long had been Danny's adversary. Felafel therefore, stresses the importance of friendships and love, over that of events and situations. This is a similar theme that is evident throughout many Australian films, such as Lantana, Muriel's Wedding, and Love and Other Catastrophes.
He Died With A Felafel In His Hand's strongpoint is not only within the roving structure of the storyline, characters and the themes that it presides. Besides this, it is one of the best presented Australian movies I have seen, and stands side by side with Moulin Rouge (though not quite for the spectacle) and Lantana as an increasing number of beautifully made Australian films. Felafel's quality comes from all aspects of the film-making style and is wonderfully crafted through Lowenstein's direction. The colours and lighting (constantly changing) apparent throughout the film are startling and largely unseen in Australian film-making. The film starts in the lazy, tropical atmosphere of Brisbane, and everything seen at this point strives to capture this, from the house, to the colour and lighting, to the insects and cane-toads and self-deprecating life-style, and to the costumes and attitudes of the characters themselves. In this way, Lowenstein has created a character and spirit for the three cities in three very distinct styles. Opposed to Brisbane, Melbourne is a dark, always raining, shifty place full of over-philosophical gun-toting policemen, where everyone wears black. Now onto Sydney, where the house has taken on a superficial but stylish look, that epitomises the 'Melrose on Acid' feel of the city itself. Sydney is the Los Angles of Oz, within the film it takes on that film-star, raving with behind-the-scene drugs attitude. The house itself is stark white, and false looking.
The characters themselves evolve through the changing landscape as if they'd always been there in the first place. Their costumes, attitudes and ideals all seem to be effected by the environment they find themselves in and this is perhaps an interesting position to look at from a social perspective. Taylor is a good example of this as in Melbourne he confesses a newly formed devotion to drugs and prostitution though whilst in Sydney, this seems to have disappeared from his mind. Sam too changes from a na•ve boyish type in the male-drenched atmosphere of Brisbane, to a funky social chic come Sydney. Danny however manages to stay somehow monotone throughout, possibly a result of his inability to escape his previous housemates and in that way his inability to escape his previous lifestyle and existence. Danny unlike the others does not grow physically or emotionally from his experiences until the death of Flip. These designs and costumes enhance the overall feel and look of the film and make Felafel a wonderful visual experience.
Because He Died With A Felafel In His Hand is a character-driven movie, it is therefore also a dialogue driven film. This is where Lowenstein excelled with his direction and script-writing. The dialogue is very snappy and thought-provoking, providing much of the assistance that the loose-structured narrative required. The characters are continually speaking over one other, and quite often about completely different things, and its Lowenstein's ability to control this environment that allows for much of the comedy in the film. This also provides the claustrophobic atmosphere that is an integral part of the horror of share-housing, for this constant babble would make it unbearably hard to think sanely. As well as this the cinematography is integral to this ploy working, and Andrew De Groot as done a fine job of presenting a picturesque film that enhances the narrative at every turn. The dramatic opening of the movie, where we see the dead cold arm of Flip holding the Felafel, also provides a thematic thread that keeps us expecting some sort of higher understanding or resolution to arrive, and the death of Flip provides this within the latter part of the movie itself.
The film received good reviews by most critics at the time of its release and subsequently, although the film itself did rather poorly at the box office and recorded a rather severe loss (It pulled $580,416, a modest total opposed to its budget of 3.9 million). This suggests that the film failed to capture any sort of audience demographic (it was aimed at University students) and in that way proved to be a financial failure. This is disappointing providing that the film is exceptional in many ways and deserves credit for being so, though the failure of it to excite interest at the Box Office may prevent another movie like Felafel being made anytime soon. One thing that this does show however, is that good reviews does not necessarily translate to good Box Office figures, and that bad Box Office figures does not necessarily translate to a bad movie. He Died With A Felafel In His Hand is far from that. Another thing that did not help, was the slightly outside-mainstream position of its main actors, notably Noah Taylor, and position that did not draw the movie-going public. However Noah Taylor is a brilliant young actor and is rated so across the world, with evidence of this in his role in Tomb Raider in early 2001, and it is disappointing that Felafel was largely ignored by the cinema-going public. Although it is a strictly non-mainstream film, Lowenstein was hoping for some kind of mainstream following, and unfortunately he wasn't able to get it.
The production process of He Died With A Felafel In His Hand was long and hard. The process of writing, financing, shooting and then completing the film took Lowenstein a long 5 years to do and many hours were spent working on the script with the books author John Birmingham. The two are good friends. Noah Taylor himself provided a lot of the material for the character of Danny, the most notable addition being Danny's proclamations to being able to make girls go 'ga ga'. After the writing process, Lowenstein was finding it increasingly difficult to gain any funding for the project, and it was only by a chance encounter that he managed to find the base for which the film was financed. Whilst in a cafˇ Lowenstein ran into Domenico Procacci, an Italian based producer with Fandango, who in turn had previously financed Bad Boy Bubby and The Quiet Room both Rolf de Heer films. He agreed to fund about 35% of the budget, and this was the starting point for the FCC to find the rest of the money. So after this, the production was underway with a variety of international and local cast and crew members, and Noah Taylor as the lead. Lowenstein admits though on Felafel's official website that the production time was somewhat restricted to the funds not being released earlier, other than this the shoot ran smoothly and Lowenstein edited the final composition himself.
The previous work of Lowenstein, namely the 1986 cult hit Dogs in Space, suggest that Felafel is destined for cult movie status within Australia, and although this did not occur at the Box Office, it is possible that a rash of Felafel video rentals will take place in the near future. Lowenstein has much to offer the Australian film-industry, and I hope to see more of his work in the near future, especially when it has to do with film. The class of Felafel is undeniable, and soon the work will be seen as unmistakably Lowensteinesque.
The placement of the film within Box Office results shows that He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, holds a fairly minor place in the Australian Cinema Market. This shows Australian films inability to compete with the fodder that comes out of Hollywood and often, this is an unreasonable comparison to make. We simply do not have the funding to provide modern Blockbusters that compete head on with the Hollywood format. Our biggest hope is to gain the audience imagination within certain demographics of the Cinema-going public but the film did not manage to do that, just like many Australian films before it. Even the public interest in Noah Taylor's budding career was unable to put the 'bums on the seats'.
Michael Yeats 2002