Charlie’s Country (Rolf de Heer, 2013)
Following on from his highly acclaimed films The Tracker and Ten Canoes, Rolf de Heer collaborates with David Gulpilil (who starred in both those films) to bring us Charlie’s Country. Reportedly based on Gulpilil’s own experiences, this latest film is set in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory in the wake of The Intervention (laws and policies implemented in these communities in 2007 in an attempt to reduce child abuse). While he still maintains a great sense of humour, Charlie (Gulpilil) has become increasingly frustrated with sanctions imposed on the community which seem to do nothing to better the standard of living.
Filmed in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Charlie’s Country is beautifully shot, although the long shots lingered a bit too long for my liking. The opening and closing scenes in particular may test those viewers who share my concentration deficiencies – while I can appreciate long, still shots, and they did work here, my mind has a tendency to wander. The score by Graham Tardif washed over me – I didn’t really notice the music during the film but a re-watch of the trailer reminded me of its effect. David Gulpilil puts in a tremendous performance as always, simultaneously conveying Charlie’s pain as well as his sense of humour.
Charlie’s Country portrays a major problem in Australian society whereby a white government creates laws that it believes are in the best interests of the Aboriginal community, but which are ultimately based on ignorance and misunderstanding of the culture. I didn’t feel that the film painted whites as outright racist arseholes like some reviewers have indicated (though there were some characters that fit this description). For example, when Charlie has his recently handmade fishing spear confiscated by a white cop (Luke Ford) due to its potential to act as a dangerous weapon, I could appreciate both Charlie and the cop’s perspectives on the situation. But whilst the white characters generally aren’t outright racists, the film does emphasise a great divide between Aboriginal culture and modern Australian society. Charlie’s Country will hopefully act as an eye-opener to many of its non-indigenous viewers regarding the flaws in current approaches to Aboriginal welfare. However, it is unfortunate that those most in need of seeing this film, won’t. And on the odd chance that they do, they are certain to miss the point. The film has enough confidence in its viewers not to slam them in the face with its message, and is worthwhile Australian cinema.