As the Ganalbingu tribesmen prepare for a goose egg hunt, Dayindi (Jamie Gulpilil), who has no wives, lusts after one of his older brothers. 'Maybe this story will help you live the proper way,' says The Storyteller (David Gulpilil, "Walkabout," "The Tracker," "The Proposition"), who recounts a tale of the ancestors and how a long ago lust led to misplaced revenge, payback and "Ten Canoes."
writer/codirector (with Peter Djigirr) Rolf de Heer ("The Quiet Room," "The Tracker") takes us deep into another world while telling a story of the human condition with wisdom, heart and humor. This first film in the Aboriginal language was made with nonprofessional actors (excepting Gulpilil) indigenous to Australia's Arafura Swamp area who both contributed to the story and created their own artifacts.
David Gulpilil, THE go-to Aboriginal actor, provides one of the best narrations ever to grace a soundtrack. Beginning with 'Once upon a time, hahaha,' the actor wraps us up in his story, sprinkling the tale with bits of spiritual myth. In addition to the Storyteller's overview, the dialogue is subtitled and we observe the ancestors cracking wise with each other (Mel Gibson perhaps took a page from "Ten Canoes" for his "Apocalypto"). During a trek through the swamp, a man who farted is banished to the end of the line with much good humor. 'They talk about women, like always,' we are told, and when one of their own, Nowalingu (Frances Djulibing), disappears, various opinions are bandied about - she ran away, she was eaten by a crocodile - but the consensus is that a stranger they had encountered must surely be responsible. What follows is quite unexpected and indeed, may just teach enough about human nature to provide fresh perspective and life lessons.
In keeping with its present/past storytelling, cinematographer Ian Jones ("The Tracker") washes his screen from black and white to color and back again and the device works, placing the ancient tale in a historical context, suggesting early photographs. All of his images are beautiful, with scenes of the Ganalbingu among the trees having an almost mystical quality. Individual characters, like old Birrinbirrin (Richard Birrinbirrin) always looking for honey, or the sorcerer with his elaborate nose bones, are introduced separately by Gulpilil before weaving into the story and the nonprofessional actors couldn't be better.
There are been films of far flung peoples and their mythologies before - "Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner" and "The Story of the Weeping Camel," not to mention silents like "Nanook of the North" and "Tabu" come immediately to mind. "Ten Canoes," a Special Jury Prize winner at Cannes 2006, is one of the best, entertaining, enlightening and empathetic.
Robin's review coming soon!
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