CHARLIE’S COUNTRY | MOVIE REVIEW

Rolf de Heer is a superb film maker, the first film I saw of his when I was much younger was BAD BOY BUBBY, loathed it and thought de Heer was completely insane, the film actually repulsed me. I then saw the film TRACKER (also starring Gulpilil) and I thought he was a master filmmaker and the movie is still one of my favourite Australian films. Then came 10 CANOES (again starring Gulpilil) and his collaborations with Gulpilil cemented the Dutch man as one of the greatest film makers that supported Australia. And now we have CHARLIE’S COUNTRY, his third collaboration with Gulpilil, a further exploration into the Aboriginal culture. While this is an incredibly realistic look at contemporary Aboriginal life and the most realistic to do so, it is my least favourite out of the Gulpilil de Heer collaboration. But you can make up your own mind, CHARLIE’S COUNTRY is releasing this THUR 17th JULY in Australia from eOne Australia. It is rated M and runs for 108mins.

 

CHARLIE'S COUNTRY MOVIE POSTER IMAGE
CHARLIE’S COUNTRY | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | MOVIE POSTER

 

REVIEW BY JASON KING 

Charlie (Gulpilil) is a blackfella in a whitefella world. He is getting old, disillusioned and questioning his life and at the same time observing and calculating his dislike for the whitefella rules that treat him like a child. Dumbed down rules for the masses that defy logic in a blackfella world. Going hunting as an Aboriginal man does is part of life, but nearly ending up in jail, having your catch, your car and your gun confiscated because you are an unlicenced “recreational shooter” incenses Charlie. Money has a different meaning to the Aboriginal also, Charlie gets his government hand out and shares the lot with the people, leaving him foodless and due to society he rarely lives off the land and uses his ingrained, almost DNA skills to survive, and has become slave to the whitefella ways. He detests this and rebels, and goes bush, but he goes bush as a sick older man and one thing leads to another and he goes off the rails, abandoning his and his people’s values and follows the cliched views of what a lot of people think of Aboriginals in the Top End.

The film is the most accurate portrayal of contemporary Aboriginal life in existence. I have been to a couple of the “dry” towns a few year’s back and it was a very odd experience forcing the Aboriginals to live our rules but at the same time they couldn’t physically handle the alcohol and the world we have been used to for a lot longer. It was a town I visited where we were locked into our caravan park at night to protect us from rampaging and drunk aboriginals. Scared the crap out of me back then – especially when my parents slept inside the caravan and made me sleep outside in a tent. I woke up to over twenty of the wild dogs sleeping all around my tent for warmth :). I was all “their so cute” and mum was like “get away from them”. Haha

 

CHARLIE'S COUNTRY - CHARLIE (DAVID GULPILIL) IMAGE
CHARLIE’S COUNTRY | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | CHARLIE (DAVID GULPILIL)

 

The film captures the country, the people and the environment perfectly, it is a stunning picture to view with Ian Jones’ cinematography eating the landscape with slow to non camera movement in a lot of scenes fully immersing you in the environment. This plus the sound design by Tom Heuzenroeder and James Currie’s create the cinematic landscape. I started getting lost in de Heer’s direction and was wondering what the hell he was actually planning on doing, was it a film or was he just following Charlie around? And while the cinematography is stunning I felt de Heer was too fascinated with Gulpilil’s amazing weathered face, white beard and curly hair, that face is a work of amazement and something to be seen, even his hands are just worn and weathered and so filled with life and story. I started to see that nearly every second scene was de Heer doing another close up on Gulpilil and yes, it formed a work of art on screen but get on with the bloody story. What destroyed it for me was about 2mins – (probably 30secs but felt like half an hour) of the camera just following barbed wire. My words after the screening were “fuck off with the art and tell the bloody story.” From then on I clock watched.

The story drags, I actually thought a couple of times, this is the end, this would be a great way to end it, but nope, then something completely different occurs. The 108min running time by the end, regardless of how powerful the film was, felt like a 3hr film.

 

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CHARLIE’S COUNTRY | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | BLACK PETE (PETER DJIGIRR) AND CHARLIE (DAVID GULPILIL) WITH THEIR BUFFALO ON THE 4WD

 

The end does get more powerful and ties it together and it is during these end scenes that Gulpilil gives the performance of his life. While not biographical this film does echo a lot of Gulpilil’s life. For most of his life he has battled alcohol and substance abuse and he has fallen from grace numerous times from giving his earnings away to his people and also spent a fair bit of time in jail. de Heer has always been a good friend and supported Gulpilil and visited in him jail post 10 Canoes, it was here he steered Gulpilil back on track, and together they built CHARLIE’S COUNTRY scene by scene. Gulpilil is a smart and sublime actor, he even won Best Actor, Un Certain Regard, at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

He successfully melds internal struggle, disillusionment and pain with humour and survival and he is so amazing to watch onscreen – probably why de Heer just fills the frame with him the entire time. There is a scene with him in prison that will go down as one of the most powerful Australian cinema scenes in history. I really do hope that the filming of this movie was cathartic for him and he stays on the wagon as I would love to see more films with him in them. I smell a certain AFI coming his way come awards season.

 

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CHARLIE’S COUNTRY | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | CHARLIE (DAVID GULPILIL) DANCES

 

CHARLIE’S COUNTRY follows the path from the right one to the wrong one and then climbs forgiveness with self and redemption. This film wins because of Gulpilil but falls off the rails with de Heer’s sometimes painfully slow direction. But perhaps this is purely because I am a city-folk whitefella that struggles with slowing down and smelling the roses. Some have already said this is one of the defining Australian films of all time, sorry, doesn’t cut it for me. Make up your own mind and let me know what you think.

 

JK’S POP SCORE:

3 Pops

KERNEL EMMA’S POP SCORE:

4 Pops