Film Review: Barbecue

Cinematography by Matthew Salleh.

Review by Dash Wilson.

Barbecue is about more than grilling a piece of meat. It is an act performed religiously around the world, and has been for millions of years. Whilst nearly every culture on the planet has some form of barbecue, what exactly is it about cooking meat over fire that brings communities and families together?

Based on the short film Central Texas Barbecue and funded by the South Australian Film Commission along with Screen Australia, Barbecue is the impressive feature length documentary debut from Adelaide filmmakers Matthew Salleh (Director, Cinematographer) and Rose Tucker (Co-Producer, Film Editing, Sound).

Travelling the globe for two years and filmed in thirteen languages, Barbecue visits some of the most remote locations on earth. From Africa to Mongolia to the borders of a Syrian refugee camp, Malleh and Tucker have explored what it is that makes us human and what unites us in this increasingly divided world. The filmmakers look at the humble barbecue as not just a cooking apparatus but as the tool that brings people together. Something that not only brings celebration and joy but that also transcends cultural differences.

In Australia, the barbecue is a place of stories, mate-ship and sharing a drink. In Sweden, the ‘engangsgrill’ is something to look forward as it means the cold and long winter months are coming to an end. Whether it be in Mongolia, Japan or Africa, this documentary cleverly demonstrates that whilst we may not speak the same language or eat the same foods – we all share the love of the barbecue.

As first time directors, there is an exceptional use of shots in Barbecue including the stunning use of iconic landscapes that are truly effective on screen. Each country is beautifully captured and featured for about ten minutes each on screen. From the vast and isolated planes of Mongolia to the bustling streets of Tokyo, Salleh’s 4K photography is quite simply, gorgeous. If you remember anything in this film, it will be the cinematography.  Teamed with Christopher Larkin’s haunting score (using the Budapest Scoring Orchestra was a stroke of genius), there is a realism and authentic beauty that lifts Barbecue well above the norm.

It is true that everyone loves a good documentary. Whether it be challenging climate change, political uprisings or showing the beauty of nature, there is no end to the scope and depth that documentaries can present. While many may find Barbecue a little repetitive and not quite mainstream enough for their tastes, what Barbecue does incredibly well is make a relatively simple idea beautiful on film – a hard feat in any medium.

Reviewed at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival (SFF).

By Dash Wilson.

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