Intelligent scripting and quality thesping by Julia Blake and rising star Firass Dirani distinguish “Last Dance,” a slow-burn psychological thriller in which a Holocaust survivor is held captive in her Melbourne apartment by a wounded Islamic terrorist. A rewarding examination of how supposed enemies can overcome hatred by sharing personal stories, the pic reps a solid helming debut for experienced Aussie editor David Pulbrook. Following its world preem at Melbourne, this virtual two-hander appears set for a strong fest run and respectable arthouse biz on local release, currently scheduled for later this year.
A sprightly, sharp-minded widow and former nurse living in Melbourne’s Jewish quarter, Ulah Lippmann (Blake) is making her shopping rounds when an offscreen bomb blast tears through a synagogue. At her nearby apartment, Ulah is confronted by Sadiq Mohammed (Dirani), a radical Muslim who is bleeding badly from the attack, which killed his co-conspirator and many innocent civilians. With Ulah bound and gagged, Sadiq intends to sit tight and wait for terrorist cell members to rescue him.
What follows reps an absorbing interplay between a young man who considers himself a legitimate soldier and an elderly woman he regards as part of the army occupying his Palestinian homeland. Maintaining a remarkably even keel while tackling perennially red-hot political issues, scripters Terence Hammond and Pulbrook construct believable ways for Ulah and Sadiq to stop looking at each other as natural-born adversaries and gradually start seeing each other as people.
The story takes off in steadily more intriguing and suspenseful directions as Sadiq’s comrades fail to show and his condition worsens. With her kidnapper now unconscious, Ulah decides not to call authorities. Instead, she tends Sadiq’s wounds and helps him toward recovery, all the while hiding his presence from police and nosy neighbor Mr. Nathan (Alan Hopgood).
The burning question auds will ask — how could Ulah possibly take such action? — is convincingly and touchingly answered by revelations of a long-ago tragedy that only now in this precise circumstance can properly be addressed, and given some form of closure. Without ever diminishing the gravity of the crime Sadiq has participated in, the film allows the details of exactly what happened at the synagogue to help auds understand and accept Ulah’s behavior.
Wisely leaving almost all police investigations and bomb aftermath details to the viewers’ imagination, the pic gets the perfs it requires from Blake and Dirani. Onscreen together for around 80% of the running time, the ideally cast thesps make fascinating and compelling company.
The only real fumble comes in the final scene. What transpires is still genuinely moving in the grand scheme of things, but the shine is slightly dulled by a depiction of law-enforcement procedure that, for Australian auds in particular, will not be entirely convincing.
Smoothly lensed by the helmer’s brother Lee Pulbrook, and sporting an excellent score of moody bass tones and flourishes of spiky strings, the pic is very nicely presented on a modest budget.