Award-winning film captures soul of Aboriginal experience

Monday, July 28, 2014

Charlie's Country
Directed by Rolf de Heer
Starring David Gulpilil
In cinemas now

From the opening moments of Charlie’s Country you know that you are witnessing a different kind of cinematic experience.

Co-written by its star David Gulpilil and its director Rolf de Heer, and produced by Aboriginal actor Peter Djigirr, Charlie’s Country presents an Aboriginal cinematic vernacular.

It totally depends on Gulpilil’s acting ability. Gulpilil features in nearly every moment of the film and mostly in long, static close up. Gulpilil does more than cope with the pressure, he communicates by the focus of his eyes, the tilt of his head and the deep, care-worn wrinkles on his face.

Gulpilil communicates the film’s spirit as he meditates on what he sees before him, things that the viewer does not see for the most part.

The soundscape of dogs barking, children playing and birds singing allow us to understand the setting, but the understanding is processed through Gulpilil’s features and the sensitivity in his eyes.

He won Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance and this role establishes himself as one of Australia’s finest actors.

The story line is simple: the daily grind of poverty and oppression, the over-bearing ignorance of white authority figures and the fundamental certainty that sovereignty has never been ceded.

John Pilger’s Utopia and Charlie’s Country can be viewed side-by-side, because Charlie’s problems are brought to a head by the Northern Territory “intervention” Pilger exposes.

Being unable to conform to the power structure, Charlie endures a range of trials and tribulations.

Along the way there is some very cutting humour at the expense of police and a few beautiful shots of Arnhem Land. But the soul of the film is inside Gulpilil and Australia should feel honoured that he has chosen to share it with us.

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From GLW issue 1018