Peter Malone MSC 30 October 2023

Ali drives a cab with another man’s licence and relies on GPS to find his way around a city he doesn’t know. His passenger, Esther, is an old woman who does not remember where she is going.

DAMAGE, Australia, 2022. Starring Ali Al Jenabi, Imelda Bourke. Directed by Madeleine Blackwell. 84 minutes. Classification not available.

This is a personal film written and directed by Madeleine Blackwell. It is an Adelaide-based story, but also very much an Australian story.

One night, an Iraqi refugee, without a visa, takes his turn driving a taxi around Adelaide, using the identity card of a fellow driver. We see him prepare, go to his car, begin to look for passengers. The driver is played by first time actor Ali Al Jenabi.

Suddenly, he is accosted by an elderly lady, appearing out of nowhere, vague, lost, getting in the taxi, but not knowing really where she wants to go, rummaging in her purse, not having an address. She is played by Imelda Bourke, a noted singer from the past, this is her only film. And, it is striking to discover that she is the director’s mother. The tagline for advertising the film states that he wants to forget but that she can’t remember.

The driver has flashbacks to various aspects of life in Iraq, bombings, sports events, personal experiences. It colours his perspective, his defensiveness, touches of aggression, especially when the old lady challenges him with asking why he has come to “my country”. She has a lot of old prejudices against migrants, against Muslims. There is a scene where the driver drops her at a Catholic church, comments about faith and different perspectives on God/Allah.

There is a striking sequence when the driver has to fill his taxi with petrol but has been told by his boss that he needs to have the taxi cleaned. The driver becomes very anxious, some harsh memories of the past, desperate in fear of being overwhelmed by water, asking the old lady to drive, she refusing, saying she has forgotten how, going into the car wash, his being overwhelmed, the old lady left stranded, but eventually driving it out of the car wash. They then sit and talk.

So, within the brief confines of a taxi ride, destination uncertain, two unlikely characters meet, confront, share, come to some understanding. The driver does look in the lady’s bag, does get an address, wants to drive her to her daughter’s place, finding a destination, the old lady rescues her dog (initially unwelcome in the taxi), leaving the audience to wonder where this will lead, the driver being able to settle in Australia, the old lady able to find relatives and home.

The film works well on this level of the interaction between two strangers. And, it makes audiences realise that there is a great deal of prejudice ingrained in Australian society that needs not only to be challenged, but to be experienced humanely, by authentic human contact.

Busby Projects

Released 9 November



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