“Let’s just get this straight. You’re 20-something years old, you have no job, no money, very few prospescts.”
Whenever a writer writes an obviously semi-autobiographical story about a “writer”, there’s always a very fine line between naval gazing wankfest, and genuinely raw emotion. “Write what you know” is a very common piece of advice for aspiring writers, but not everyone’s years as young, starving artists lend themselves to compelling stories. But sometimes, those young, starving writers, writing about their young, starving existences, works just right. Sometimes, you get stories like He Died With a Falafel in His Hand.
Danny (Noah Taylor) bitches at housemate Flip (Brett Stewart) for having the TV on too loud in the middle of the night. But it’s not Flip’s fault, because Flip is sitting in front of the TV, dead, with the titular falafel in his titular hand. Flashback to sometime earlier, and Danny and Flip are living in a rundown share house in Brisbane with at least half a dozen other people. The main one being Sam (Emily Hamilton). Between rounds of cane toad golf, bucket bongs and being a frustrated writer, Danny joins his deadbeat housemates in not paying the rent, until their debt catches up with them and it’s time to leave.
Next up is Melbourne, where Danny shares a flat with a lefty liberal where Sam and Flip show up on his in his doorstep. Sam is in a bad way after breaking up with their former Brisbane housemate Anya (Romane Bohringer), while Flip has started to dabble in a bit of the ol’ heroin. After more fiscal trouble in Melbourne, the third stop is a swanky harbor side apartment in Sydney that Danny shares with some fairly stereotypical Sydney yuppie types. Once again, Sam, Flip and this time Anya, all arrive to disrupt his life in different ways.
He Died With a Falafel in His Hand is a very Aussie movie. And I don’t mean that in a Crocodile Dundee way that panders to non-Aussies. I mean it’s the kind of movie that speaks with an Australian shorthand for Australians, and has no regard for whether or not non-Australians will even get most of the references.
Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are very different versions of what it is to be a large Australian city, and what it means to be an inhabitant of a large Australian city. And this movie uses that inside knowledge to quickly get to the point without wasting time on explaining it. Brisbane people are cheap and nasty yobbos, Melbourne dwellers are pretentious intellectuals, Sydney siders are all about money and public image. They’re kind of easy stereotypes, but they’re also accurate enough that they quickly and perfectly setup Danny’s array of living situations.
This movie is also an awesome snapshot of Australian music at the turn of the century. Nick Cave, sonicanimation, Spiderbait and Roland S Howard… It’s the sound of this country at that I really personally associate with that time, and the music that shaped these characters in their formative years. Every now and again, He Died With a Falafel in His Hand veers on the side of being a naval gazing wankfest. But it always counters that with genuinely raw emotion.