Richard Lowenstein’s 2001 film He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, a loose adaptation of John Birmingham’s 1994 memoir of the same title, follows Danny (Noah Taylor) with his typewriter and guitar in pursuit of love and meaning through his account of the share-house experience in Australia’s major cities. While the film might be more fitting under the ‘black comedy’ subgenre, its narrative and structure suggests a prolonged coming-of-age for those living in Australia in their mid to late 20s. For Danny in He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, this means watching from afar as the people of his past tie the knot, and discovering who he is, while navigating the at times chaotic share-house experience.

As director Lowenstein said in conversation with Christopher Strickland on the film, “it’s almost like we recreate in our youth the village that we all came from, before we ended up in isolated cities.”1 Strickland notes the “sociological phenomenon” that Lowenstein documents, (the share-house), considering it was “unheard of” in the 1950s to move out with a group of people rather than with your newly wedded partner.2 A group of misfits always find their way back to Danny in the film, whether it’s in Brisbane, Melbourne, or Sydney: Sam (Emily Hamilton), Anya (Romane Bohringer), Taylor (Alex Menglet), and Flip (Brett Stewart). A love triangle ensues between Danny, Sam, and Anya, leading to a series of first-time sexual experiences – a generic marker of coming-of-age, “reaffirming conventions of the US teen film genre.”3 Protagonist Danny’s search for a “valid and tenable identity” and place of acceptance4 are also indicative of the coming-of-age genre. Similarly, these narrative devices are present in The Year My Voice Broke (John Duigan, 1987), the protagonist also played by a young Noah Taylor, coincidentally under the same character name – ‘Danny.’ Casting choices are important when creating a genre-specific film, and Lowenstein’s decision to cast Noah Taylor in an Australian film about youth, given his prior work in coming-of-age films, nudges at an established audience of fans, just as Molly Ringwald was repeatedly cast in John Hughes’ films in the ’80s.

The broadness of the coming-of-age genre is notable in its ability to present the awkwardness of new or all too familiar experiences at different stages of youth. Writing on teletype paper to attest to his prestige as a self-proclaimed writer when in Brisbane, and resorting to toilet paper by the time he gets to Melbourne, suggests that maturity is far from Danny’s reach. Those within Danny’s circle are confused and slightly unhinged young Australians, portrayed as “being ‘other’ and defying adulthood,” a common trope in Australian comedies.5 The main characters in Felafel present this ‘otherness’ in different ways – Sam, for instance, navigates her bisexuality through her complicated relationship with her best friend, Danny, and an alluring yet incredibly pretentious French woman, Anya. Danny’s Sydney housemate Dirk (Francis McMahon) also battles with this ‘otherness,’ coming out to the group as gay and receiving little to no support, possibly tainting how he views and experiences his queerness moving forward. Protagonist Danny, comparatively, seeks out this otherness, displaying prints of Jean-Luc Godard characters on his bedroom wall above his typewriter, in hopes of sparking an idea to write about. Nana Kleinfrankenheim (Anna Karina) does not seem too convinced, hence the apology to Godard in the credit sequence. Indeed, at times, feelings of ‘otherness’ and heartbreak become too overwhelming for some, with Nick Cave’s song ‘The Mercy Seat’ aiding in Sam’s emotional turmoil, who, at this stage of the film, has reached breaking point. Lowenstein captures Melbourne youth in this segment of the film almost eerily well, with characters that hold up over 20 years from the film’s initial release.

As Victoria Herche explores in her study on adolescence in Australian cinema, much of this obsession with youth is derived from a national obsession with being ‘young,’ the term even being plugged into the national anthem until its revision in recent years.6 Lowenstein critiques this throughout Felafel, intentionally or not, with Danny filling in a grey hair with a black marker towards the film’s close. Danny, in his mid to late 20s, avoids the responsibilities of adulthood at all costs and when met with reminders of his age or financial strife, he packs up and hides away in attempts to not necessarily start anew, but to find solitude in the never-ending chaos of adulthood. While the film deals with heavy content, as most films concerned with the hardships of youthhood do, Felafel and its predecessors are “about youth rather than for youth per se.”7 In the film’s marketing report, the primary target audience was ‘Males/Females ñ 16-24 [sic]’8 but wasn’t an instant hit for everyone in this age group as it did quite miserably at the box office in 2001, although has since garnered a cult following with the intended audience.

In the coming-of-age genre, “the adult society and individuals who mock… (the youth) …are positioned as grotesque, narrow-minded and stereotypically repressive.”9 In the world of He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, landlords, social security officers, police, and detectives – all being in positions of power – seem to go out of their way and often out of their jurisdiction to find any dirt they can on Danny and his flatmates. Danny’s Brisbane share-house receives regular visits by a duo of impolite ‘landlords’ awaiting unpaid rent, the Sydney share-house is home to a pile of urgent letters from the government awaiting Danny’s response, and the Melbourne share-house is visited by the police, who come with bullets rather than compassion.

He Died with a Felafel in His Hand is not only an honest and raw depiction of share-house living in Australia, but an important commentary on youthhood and what it means to be ‘young’ in so-called ‘Australia.’ In an escapade of moves from city to city, coupled with a Nick Cave edge and Jean-Luc Godard flare, Lowenstein presents Danny and his inner circle as underdogs – a consistent trope in the coming-of-age film – who are seeking love and a sense of belonging in a world that isn’t ready to accept them as adults.

He Died with a Felafel in His Hand (2001 Australia 107 mins)

Prod Co: Australian Film Finance Corporation, Fandango, New South Wales Film and Television Office, Notorious Films, Roadshow Entertainment Prod: Richard Lowenstein, Andrew McPhail, Domenico Procacci Dir: Richard Lowenstein Scr: Richard Lowenstein, based on the novel He Died with a Felafel in His Hand by John Birmingham Phot: Andrew de Groot Ed: Richard Lowenstein, Seth Lockwood, Fiona Fry Prod Des: Iain Aitken Mus: Richard Lowenstein (Music Editor & Soundtrack Producer), Mana Music, Chris Gough, Julie Spinks (Music Supervisors, no original score)

Cast: Noah Taylor, Emily Hamilton, Romane Bohringer, Sophie Lee, Alex Menglet, Brett Stewart, Damian Walshe-Howling, Franics McMahon, Ian Hughes


  1. Richard Lowenstein, interview by Christopher Strickland, “The Naked Gun Meets Jean Luc Godard?,” Metro Magazine, Issue 131/132, (January 2001): p. 38.
  2. Strickland, p. 38.
  3. Herche, p. 51.
  4. Jonathan Rayner, Contemporary Australian Cinema: an introduction (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000): p. 25.
  5. Kristina Gottschall, ‘‘Jesus! A Geriatric – That’s All I Need!’: learning to come of age with/in popular Australian film,’ Global Studies of Childhood, Volume 1, Issue 4 (January 2011): p. 335.
  6. Herche.
  7. Gottschall, p. 332-333.
  8. Roadshow Film Distributors, Marketing Report: He Died with a Felafel in His Hand (9 May 2001), AFI Research Collection.
  9. Gottschall, p. 334-335.

About The Author

Amy Maher is a Media student at RMIT, minoring in cinema studies. Her interests lie in both local and international film and TV culture, and she was on the team of the student-run Debut International Film Festival, 2023. Her work has been published in The Capitol Journal.

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