"'Charlie's Country' Remembers and Lives Australia's Tragic Colonial Past," review by NCC Associate Professor Lesley Smith

Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country opens in the US trailing an illustrious history. At the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie played in the Un Certain Regard section, David Gulpilil won the Best Actor award, while de Heer secured a Best Director nomination. Gulpilil also won Best Actor at Australia’s AACTA awards, and Australia entered the movie as its contender for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The film’s focus on an aging, recalcitrant, Northern Territories Aborigine, the eponymous Charlie (Gulpilil) turns inside out the cliché of indigenous populations as first-world problems to be solved via government aid and legal sanctions. Through a subtle script, exceptional acting, and a compelling partnership between de Heer and DP Ian Jones, Charlie’s Country shows how the steady erosion of one individual’s autonomy illuminates an entire nation’s past.

De Heer locates his movie in a very specific space and time, the Northern Territories of Australia in the aftermath of 2007’s government-led “intervention” there. Later re-named the Stronger Futures Policy, the program was ostensibly launched to protect indigenous children from violence and abuse. Via much-needed services and much less welcome round-the-clock surveillance, the national government targeted the ways of life of nearly one-third of the Territories’ population, its Aboriginal citizens.

The film adopts a classical, three-act structure to lambast the destruction of traditional communities, once more, in its wake. It begins in the Yolngu town of Ramingining, where Charlie is living in voluntary exile as the indignities of absurd laws deprive him of his last vestiges of autonomy. The movie then follows his revelatory sojourn in the bush in search of the solitary harmony of the “old ways” of itinerant living. The final act opens with Charlie in Darwin, where the conscious choice of homelessness, drinking and the colonization of parks and open spaces, colloquially called long-grassing, creates a modern version of now untenable “old ways”.

Read more of Dr. Smith's review here.