David Gulpilil received a standing ovation upon winning the Best Actor Award for his starring role in ‘Charlie’s Country’ at Cannes this year. Co-written with long-time collaborator Rolf de Heer (who also directed), the film mirrors Gulpilil’s own life story spent in the far north of Australia.
Charlie (Gulpilil) is an older Aboriginal man living in the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory. His community is predominately Indigenous, with the only non-Aboriginal people being the police and government administrators. Charlie sleeps in a little hut beside an open fire. He shares his fortnightly government payment with family members, until he has nothing left. He lives week to week, and spends a lot of time gazing at an old photograph.
The film emphasises the worsening lack of understanding between “the system” and Aboriginal people. Charlie and his mate go hunting with a sawn-off shotgun and an unregistered rifle. They’re caught by the police, and their firearms confiscated. This serves as a catalyst for Charlie’s journey, and the film doesn’t shy away from any controversial issues.
Charlie’s fed up with the “white man’s” interference and decides to go bush. The scenery of Kakadu is mesmerising, and de Heer tries very hard to do it justice. Travelling there is now on my bucket list. The colours, the distances, the beauty of the region are breathtaking.
The cinematography is excellent, capturing Gulpilil’s myriad of expressions.
The cinematography is excellent, capturing Gulpilil’s myriad of expressions. I have to hand it to Gulpilil – most of the film is just him, interacting with his environment, and he somehow manages to express his innermost emotions without saying a word. The award at Cannes was well deserved. The supporting cast are also excellent.
The score is minimal and delicate, never distracting from the action on screen. There are a few genuinely funny moments, and some truly moving moments too. If the film’s goal is to provide insight into the struggle of Aboriginal people to hold onto their culture, while attempting to work within a system that doesn’t understand them, then it succeeds.