Ten Canoes

first_imgWhen ten Aboriginal men go off on a fishing trip, it becomes apparent that a young man has taken a fancy to another man’s wife. Her husband starts to tell him a tale: ‘A long, long time ago…a story far before long ago. Before we can remember.’ The black and white film blurs into colour as we embark upon a tale of two brothers’ love for the same woman. As the narrator puts it, it is a tale of ‘too many words, but not enough women’. This conflict over a woman leads to confrontation with another tribe in which a stranger is murdered. The upholding of tribal law, revenge, courage, love, and loss are all invoked in the course of the conflict. The story is simple, and told simply, but with a humour and emotional power that belies its naiveté. The director makes effective use of juxtaposed shots; sweeping panoramas of Northern Australian landscape cut suddenly to a close-up of the swollen belly of a naked young woman. Different languages reinforce this sense of contrast as the narrator speaks in English, but the actors in various local dialects; in fact, this is the first feature-length film in an indigenous Aboriginal language. One hundred and fifty spears, ten canoes, three wives…trouble’ reads the film’s tagline, and when it gets it right the story is just that – funny and affecting. These funny moments are somewhat undermined as the sub-titles often reveal yet another melodramatic and doom-ridden epithet. Also, the director’s attempt to make a film which satisfies both local tastes and a Western cinema-going audience’s proclivities can stall it in platitudes and politically correct snapshots. Its greatest asset is David Gulpilil as its narrator, whose lively and witty voice-overs fully exploit the comic scenes. The film attempts to explore Aboriginal culture and beliefs, where we came from, why we’re here and where we’re going using local tribal people whose first ‘acting’ attempts are spot on. For a patient viewer, the film is a powerful exploration of Australia’s cultural heritage.1 JuneRenoir, Barbican,Key Cities Lucy Karstenlast_img

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