Charlie’s Country movie review: unwelcome change

Charlies Country green light

A quietly devastating film about the impact of colonialism and paternalism on Australia’s indigenous people via one man’s very personal journey.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Charlie’s country isn’t his anymore. He’s an Aboriginal, and his culture and his way of life have been destroyed by white man’s laws, “white man junk food,” and white man coming and building his houses on Charlie’s ancestral land. And still, he soldiers on. This is an eloquent portrait of Charlie as he struggles to find an authentic life even as his life is nearing its end, a task made almost impossible when most of what is meaningful to him has been taken away or corralled by rules he had no say in implementing. (The bush may be a “supermarket,” better than the actual shop loaded with crap processed food, but white cops say he needs a license he can’t afford for the gun he needs to hunt with, and then they confiscate the hunting spear he crafted to replace the gun!) Australian director Rolf de Heer and star David Gulpilil — who wrote the script together and previously collaborated on The Tracker — have crafted a quietly devastating film about the widespread impact of colonialism and paternalism on Australia’s indigenous people via Charlie’s very personal journey through his impoverished world, which is poor not only financially but socially and emotionally, in which a general good-natured humor — like the friendly insults he trades with the local white cop (Luke Ford: Animal Kingdom) — only just barely masks a lot of pain and resentment that doesn’t take much prompting to come out. Even hope for Charlie is tinged with something that looks like sadness from the outside. Is it a sign that he might find a way toward a balance between the old and the new in the fact that he is so very proud of that time, so long ago, when he danced a traditional dance in front of the Queen herself at the opening of the Sydney Opera House? Or is that simply a sign that white man’s culture has dug its tendrils deep into him? A heartbreaking film, and a very essential one for its complex and provocative exploration of how rapidly changing tradition dislocates the human soul.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Charlie’s Country for its representation of girls and women.

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