Charlie’s Country

This is another Australian film from the wonderful Wales One World festival, starring a man  they describe as ‘legendary,’ actor David Gulpilil. Well, he’s the only famous aboriginal actor, so is well deserved, and says much about the industry. It is an incredibly powerful film about life in a native settlement near Darwin, focusing on an old man, Charlie who is in almost every scene. It begins with him sitting in a lean-to looking at a crumpled old photograph that we cannot see; he is mutteing to himself, he is thinking. It should be boring, but it gives us time to get into the scene, to begin guessing about this old man’s life.

He wanders about, gives money to people, bums cigrettes from people that he throws into his fire, but then we start to see the problems he has with the whites. He and a friend go hunting, but on the way back, the truck is impounded for being dangerous, their illegal fire arms are confiscated for being unlicenced, so Charlie makes himself some spears to get himself some fresh food, but they are confiscated by the police.

Not a lot happens, but the gentle pace allows us to see how terrible the situation is for aborigines on these settlements. Unable to practice their old ways which are dying out, they are unable to participate in modern society, so they are lost in limbo between the two worlds. Charlie is no fool. He lives alone, but knows lots of people, and the language switches easlily between native tongue and English, showing how good he is at engaging in both worlds. I was tempted almost to laugh out loud when he was in hospital and spoke his native tongue, to which the doctor replied, he didn’t understand foreign languages. Indeed.

At times he gets eally angry- he wants a house, even though he has one where his family lives. The government man has a house, and Charlie gets mad that he won’t help him. Criminals use him to find a safe place to hide from the police, but then the police use him – unpaid – to find the drug dealers. Charlie plays them off against each other, but ultimately, there is no winner.

The film is funny,sad, fascinating, and deceptively political. It gives us a window on the lives of Australia’s original inhabitants and their ill treatment by whites, but it pulls no punches on their own behaviour..

Apparently the present Conservative government in Australia is closing down these native setttlements as they are not paying their way. The draconian policing of native drinking is also drawing a lot of complaints. I have no idea what the solution is to the problems shown in this film, and the film itself makes no attempt at suggesting a solution. It’s just brilliantly acted and very sad film about a culture clash that has been going on for centuries and, like much in the middle east,  shows no sign of being resolved soon.

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