This is a beautifully crafted Australian film, that competed in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and tells the story of Charlie (David Gulpilil), a vulnerable indigenous man living in a remote part of the Northern Territory.
The film was made in Gulpilil's home country of Ramingining in Arnhem Land and the story is inspired by his personal experiences. The laws of the White Man have been introduced into his community and he is unhappy with them. Rejecting their strictures, he wants to return to the old ways of existence, and live as his ancestors chose to live.
Gulpilil won the Best Actor award in the Regard section at Cannes, and his award is richly deserved. He is one of those rare actors who don't need words to let you know immediately what he is thinking and feeling.
He has starred previously in Rolf De Heer's The Tracker (2002), and Ten Canoes (2006). The first of these two movies examined the relations between black and white Australians in the early 20th century, and the second explored Indigenous culture before white settlement. In this film, the consequences of a clash between the two cultures completes a trilogy, and is the most personal film of the three.
Gulpilil acts out charismatically the story of a person caught tragically between two cultures - one he belongs to, and one that is intruding onto his traditions and beliefs. He struggles with a culture he perceives as rejecting his way of life, and he is enraged by the white regulations that isolate him from his traditions. The restrictions have been introduced for enforcement by the town's white policeman, Luke (Luke Ford), and Charlie frequently runs afoul of the law with his Indigenous friend, Pete (Peter Djigirr).
Luke confiscates a spear that is precious to Charlie; he needs it to hunt for food. The incident drives him into the bush to reconnect with his old way of life. He escapes to find freedom and recover his dignity, but his journey denies him both. Stressed by the experience, he is humiliated and loses face. He gets sick and his beard and hair are shorn, following arrest and imprisonment for providing alcohol to a banned (Indigenous) person.
Gulpilil captures the social tension and unhappiness of his people superbly. He has worked with De Heer many times before and the interaction between actor and Director is seamless; both Gulpilil and De Heer wrote the screenplay for this film together.
Under the expert direction of De Heer and the magnificent acting of Gulpilil, the film captures the warmth and humanity of Indigenous peoples, while recognising at the same time their own issues and the problems that have come from White Man's entry into their culture.
- Peter Sheehan, ACOFB
Starring: David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, and Luke Ford. Directed by Rolf De Heer. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 108 min.