Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Charlie’s Country: His Land, Their Rules
is tempting to use the standard anti-colonialist prism to analysis Aboriginal
grievances, but it is important to remember twenty percent of modern day
Australians are descended from the British prisoner population. Hardly Conquistadors,
they had little choice in their relocation. Old leathery Charlie is in no mood
for such distinctions and it is hard to blame him when he is harassed by the
gun-grabbing, spear-confiscating police in Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country (trailer here), which opens today in New York.
Charlie seems like a rather happy-go-lucky fellow, who is always willing to
help his fellow Aboriginals in a sleepy Northern Territory village. However,
his strained banter with the local white coppers hints at the deep resentments
he has long nursed. Increasingly disgusted by the poverty and dependence
surrounding him, Charlie would like to spend more time in the bush country,
living off the land, but the cops makes it almost impossible by first seizing
his unlicensed highwayman-style firearm and then taking his jury-rigged spear.
It is especially galling considering Charlie’s past gratis assistance tracking
a few misadventures and an unfortunate hospital stint, Charlie drifts to the
relatively big city of Darwin, where he falls in with a group of homeless
Aboriginals. They welcome him like a rock star, because he is not legally
banned from buying “grog”—at least not yet (a paternalistic policy that is deeply
problematic on multiple levels, yet hard to condemn with apoplectic outrage).
economic marginalization, depression, and alcoholism are all significant factors
in Charlie’s Country. Hmm, does that
ring any bells? In fact, the entire film will feel familiar to anyone who has
seen just about any well-meaning native peoples drama. We basically know where Charlie is coming
from and where he is going, so do not expect any great surprises to come around
that as it may, Country is an
excellent showcase for de Heer’s lead and co-screenwriter, David Gulpilil, one
of Australia’s preeminent Aboriginal actors, starting with Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout and continuing through Mad Dog Morgan, Crocodile Dundee,
Rabbit-Proof Fence, and Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.
He brings great depth and range to Charlie, guaranteeing the film never slides
into clichéd angry outsider exploitation terrain. This is a character study,
not Falling Down in the Outback.
As Australia’s most recent foreign language Oscar
submission, it rather baffling that Country
did not generate more buzz, because it comes from an established director and
offers up king-sized portions of white guilt. Frankly, it is also a bit surprising
the rule sticklers did not disqualify Country
for its considerable English dialogue. More notably, it features a
remarkably mature and assured central performance and some striking natural
backdrops, lensed to awe by cinematographer Ian Jones. Earnest and consistently
well-acted, but easily predictable from start to finish, Charlie’s Country is recommended for patrons of protest cinema and
Gulpilil admirers when it opens today (6/5) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza
Labels: Australian cinema, David Gulpilil