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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Jamal Alamein has returned to his family home in Sydney’s western suburbs to see his dying
mother. But first he must run the gauntlet — a series of lacerating encounters with loved ones
he betrayed with his decision to go to Syria and join Islamic State. First up is his older brother,
Omar, an academic who subjects him to a long and bitter interrogation. Then, pushed to
exhaustion, Omar reluctantly agrees to try smuggling him inside without anyone else knowing.
This means that he must corral everybody into the back garden so Jamal can have a few
minutes alone with their mother in her darkened bedroom.
These manoeuvrings take on the black comic aspect of a human chess game, and it’s clear from
the start that they’re doomed. Director Serhat Caradee’s dogged but punchy script is expressly
designed to tease out the family schisms that led to Jamal’s defection and he’s not going to be
let off lightly. Before the day is done, all main players have their say and the shaky foundations
of his resolve are tested to their limits.
Confined to house and garden, Caradee’s cast banish any hint of claustrophobia with the
potency of their pain and outrage. Omar’s role is to reiterate the extent of the damage – the
police surveillance, the ostracism and finger-pointing that the family has suffered. With all this
laid before him, Jamal fires up, countering with the accusation that they’re all “whitewashed
Arabs” and that his brother is ashamed of being Muslim. He becomes so enraged that he pulls a
gun, leaving them both horrified and chastened.
He’s still hiding in the garden when round two begins. He’s spotted by his young son and
discovered by his wife, Heidi, and she, like Omar, is blazing with hurt and indignation. She
reminds him that he is the reason she converted to Islam. When he asks her why she’s not
wearing the scarf, she tells him that it’s no longer a religion she can defend. Effectively stripped
of the bluster that he’s been stoking in preparation for the whole ideal, he finds that he’s been
reduced to just one sentence: “It’s complicated”.