Review | ‘The Furnace’ digs into our gold obsession and violent past

The Furnace | Dir: Roderick MacKay | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

The deserts of Western Australia have become the rugged canvas for debut writer/director Roderick MacKay to bring some of Australia’s powerful but relatively unknown history to the big screen. Trekking through the heat and the dust in 1897, a young Afghan Cameleer Hanif (Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek) has learned the Budimaya language to converse with the first people of the Mt Magnet region.

The rush to unearth gold had brought people to the West’s outback since the 1850s and hardy camels were ideal for transporting food and goods to remote towns. The nomadic ‘Ghan’ felt a kinship with those native to the land but after his mentor and friend, Jundah (Kaushik Das), is murdered by some trigger-happy lawless prospectors, Hanif decides he wants to return home.

Rescuing an injured man on the run from the law, Mal (David Wenham), who has stolen a large amount of gold, Hanif figures that he can return to his homeland with the share of spoils promised by Mal. All he needs to do is take the cantankerous Mal to ‘the furnace’ where the gold can be melted down to remove its identifying marks.

With a group of British troops led by the aggressive Sergeant Shaw (Jay Ryan) wanting to recover the Queen’s gold as well as a couple of bounty hunters on their tails, the journey to Kalgoorlie is a treacherous one. Mal is armed with a gun and Hanif has a couple of spears, which says something about who has the advantage.

The five languages (all subtitled) in the film add authenticity to the divide between the mix of religions and races struggling to survive in the harsh, unforgiving land. This thrilling road movie shows a violent past and desperation for a gold-coloured rock that drives men crazy.

The Furnace is the opening film for UWA’s Somerville season of films for the Perth Festival, screening from Monday 30 November until Sunday 6 December. Program details and tickets are available at perthfestival.com.au and at the venue when the gates open at 6pm.

Lezly Herbert


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