Death In Brunswick opens with an image that could be culled from any urban backstreet in Greece or Turkey. A hot wind whips along an empty street, rattling cans and flicking up dust. The sun shines without mercy.
An old woman passes, wrapped in black, carrying a dead branch in her arms. She shuffles across the road to an abandoned car where she fastidiously deposits her rubbish.
But this is Brunswick, Melbourne, an inner-urban sprawl populated with Greeks and Turks and a few Australians, a place where each group maintains its cultural heritage amid a clutter of houses, factories and shops.
This sparse setting conjures up images of a bleak world where death could be the norm until we are introduced to the hapless Carl “Cookie” Fitzgerald, a character personified with humorous charm by Sam Neill.
Carl is rapidly approaching middle-age and trying, at the behest of his domineering mother (Yvonne Lawley) and his best friend Dave (John Clarke) to get his act together.
The theme of death is central to the film. An early gag shows Carl wake one morning to find his mother, head first, in the gas oven – cleaning!
Her role in Carl’s life is one of dominance and interference, precipitating the sequence of chaotic events which befall him. Both characters are preoccupied with her imminent departure from this earth, a trait she exploits to keep her boy under the thumb.
Even in his quest to take a job and make a go of things, the subject of death constantly recurs. Carl is employed as a cook in a seedy nightclub and promptly becomes involved in the accidental death of Mustafa (Nick Lathouris), a Turkish kitchen-hand who deals from the premises in hot property and drugs.
When Mustafa fails to come home, his wife and son come searching. The young son does the talking. Later, accompanied by a group of large, knife-wielding Turkish men, he sits impassively as they threaten, then beat, Carl.
It’s a wild, sporadic film that constantly surprises but rarely gives away its next move. Along the way, we are treated to a budding romance between Carl and Sophie (Zoe Carides), who works in the club.
Carl ‘Cookie’ Fitzgerald