Slam (2018)


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A disappointingly flat and somewhat tone-deaf treatment of an interesting topic.

The feminist slam poetry and lead character Ameena (Danielle Horvat) were what drew me in to Partho Sen-Gupta’s fourth feature film, but both are something of a McGuffin, secondary to a leaden plot about Ameena’s brother. Tariq (Adam Bakri) struggles to reconcile a traumatic childhood in Pakistan with the white Australian lifestyle he has managed to create with soft-spoken pregnant wife Sally (Rebecca Breeds) and daughter Alia (Lourdes Abdishou). They even call him Ricky, a clear indication of how he has separated from his family and his past.

We start with Ameena performing a striking poem that becomes a repeated motif, “Mother … from your womb to my lips.” She exits the venue and heads off down the darkened street and, when her mother Rana (Darina Al Joundi) wakes in the early hours of the morning to find she hasn’t come home, she calls Ricky to help find her. Reporting her as missing to local police officer Joanna Hendricks (Rachael Blake), small moments of racial profiling begin to emerge. Before long, public grief at the execution of an Australian soldier in Syria by Islamic terrorists conflagrates into a certainty that Ameena is a perpetrator not a victim.

It’s a really interesting scenario and once I got over the disappointment that Ameena is not a larger part of the film, I was looking forward to seeing how this reflection of contemporary Australia might play out. Unfortunately there was a lack of subtlety and subtext in the treatment. Ricky looks impassive and drives around a lot. The growing racial tensions are played out almost entirely through radio broadcasts. Ricky’s previous estrangement from his family is not explained nor particularly believable. Many of the secondary characters are stereotypes who respond in ways that don’t ring true but conveniently further the plot.

There is a slight secondary thread, that of officer Hendricks who we learn has lost a son, rather conveniently. Blake gives the most solid and nuanced performance in the film but there are some dubious and exploitative depictions of her character that signal, I feel, that the director is male. The final scene with her husband is heartbreaking but serves no narrative purpose. Ameena may have been a feminist but this film isn’t.

And then there is the ending. The director, I think, had little faith in audiences being able to understand the message of the film about the demonisation of those who have come to Australia to flee terror. He underlines it, then again and then again. It’s facepalm-worthy and I suspect he couldn’t let go of the very dramatic final shot. It wasn’t needed and, like the treatment of Hendricks, seemed an unnecessary abuse.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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