No coun­try for abo­rig­i­nal men

Char­lie’s Coun­try, drama, not rated, in Yol­ngu and English with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Priyanka Ku­mar

Na­tive peo­ple who are forced to live by laws in con­flict with their long­stand­ing way of life can face a con­tin­u­ous strug­gle — it doesn’t mat­ter if they are on a reser­va­tion or in the city, in the U.S. or Australia. In the Aus­tralian fea­ture Char­lie’s Coun­try, direc­tor Rolf de Heer il­lus­trates this strug­gle with just enough heart­break and hope to keep you watch­ing. Char­lie is an abo­rig­i­nal man on the dole, and his heart is still in the old ways, not in the “bas­tard white man’s cul­ture.” He’s got hu­mor and hu­man­ity to spare and has be­come the go-to man for odd jobs — for drug deal­ers and cops. Char­lie is aging, and he doesn’t have enough food to eat or a good set of teeth to eat with. He’d like to have his own house. “You’ve got a house and a job on my land,” he tells a white bu­reau­crat. “Where’s my house? Where’s my job?”

Af­ter Char­lie and his friend shoot a buf­falo for meat, cops con­fis­cate their guns be­cause they’re not car­ry­ing li­censes. Out­raged that a hunt­ing li­cense costs 60 dol­lars and that he’ll need to buy a new gun, Char­lie makes a spear in­stead. A cop con­fis­cates his spear — it’s a “danger­ous weapon.” Re­sent­ful of how cops clamp down on his way of life, Char­lie loses what lit­tle faith he had in the sys­tem. In­stead, he tries to look for his “mother coun­try.” His re­ver­sal to bush life is a mem­o­rable se­quence — it’s at once a rev­erie and a re­minder of na­ture’s el­e­men­tal force. Stay­ing dry is not easy, but it’s only when he’s in the bush and feel­ing free that Char­lie has the im­pulse to paint and dance.

The film keeps its med­i­ta­tive pace and sense of hu­mor through the set­backs in Char­lie’s life — his hos­pi­tal­iza­tion and, fi­nally, his ar­rest. David Gulpilil as Char­lie gives a stoic and deeply felt per­for­mance, for which he won a best ac­tor award at the 2014 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. This is not the first time Gulpilil and de Heer have col­lab­o­rated and, in fact, this story was con­ceived when de Heer vis­ited Gulpilil in pri­son.

In the film, Char­lie is re­leased from pri­son, but noth­ing seems to have changed when he re­turns home. Junk food still rules in the con­ve­nience store where the res­i­dents buy their food. “The food in pri­son was bet­ter than this!” Char­lie cries out. In the end, whether or not he’ll trans­mit knowl­edge of the old ways to younger abo­rig­i­nals may be the most im­por­tant choice Char­lie will make.

Back to the land: David Gulpilil

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