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TEN CANOES

Director: ROLF DE HEER & PETER DJIGIRR

AUSTRALIA • 2006 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 90 MIN


THE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY OF ARNHEM LAND IN NORTHERN AUSTRALIA FIND THEIR OWN VOICE IN THIS CAPTIVATING PIECE OF STORYTELLING SET LONG BEFORE THE WHITE MEN ARRIVED.
When the Ganalbingu tribesmen set out on their annual goose-egg-gathering trip deep into the local swamps, it’s a learning curve for the younger lads, and not only about the right way to transform a tree-trunk into a canoe. When Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) the elder learns that youthful Dayandi (Jamie Gulpilil) has an illicit crush on his third wife, he decides to punctuate the men’s mission with a pointedly framed story from way back—in which a young warrior’s eye for one of his brothers’ wives throws the harmony of the group off-balance when it’s suspected she’s been kidnapped by a rival tribe.
As the action cuts between this shaggy-dog parable (shot in black and white and narrated by Aboriginal screen icon David Gulpilil, once the star of Nic Roeg’s Walkabout) and the progress of the egg-hunting (whose burnished hues recreate photos shot by noted anthropologist Donald Thomson in the 1930s), the point of the exercise falls into place: it’s about how we use stories not only to learn about our own history, but to shape the way we want to live, for moral guidance and entertainment. However worthy that might sound, it has to be stressed that Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr’s film is far from reverent, regaling us instead with a rollicking tale full of bawdiness, broad humour and surprising tenderness. The customs may be fascinatingly unfamiliar, but this is a great story, period. —Trevor Johnston.

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