Ten Canoes (DVD)

The baggage that one may well expect “Ten Canoes” to be carrying is nowhere to be found, which makes this tale of ancient Aboriginal life all the more interesting and worthwhile.


Jamie Gulpilil Dayindi Dalaithngu, Crusoe Kurddal, David Gulpilil

The baggage that one may well expect “Ten Canoes” to be carrying is nowhere to be found, which makes this tale of ancient Aboriginal life all the more interesting and worthwhile.

This new movie from maverick filmmaker Rolf de Heer avoids the usual route of treating Australia’s indigenous people as a symbol of something greater or a problem to be solved. Instead, it’s simply a story in which Aborigines are the characters.

In addition to that, though, it’s also about the power of storytelling in the Aboriginal culture. And de Heer’s collaboration with the Ramingining people has resulted in a piece of work that has a low-key charm and fascination.

With David Gulpilil, the star of de Heer’s “The Tracker”, providing a wry narration, “Ten Canoes” takes the viewer back to Australia long before the arrival of white settlers.

It’s the same outback scenery may of us will have seen before, but the director somehow makes us see it with new eyes – the landscape seems lush, untouched, purer.

A hunting party of 10 men is building canoes in preparation for a goose-egg hunt in a nearby swamp, and Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) takes the opportunity to share a story with his younger brother Dayindi (Jamie Dayindi Gulpilil Dalaithngu, son of David Gulpilil).

The older man knows his young brother has eyes for one of his three wives, and the story he tells is cautionary tale about what happened when a similar situation arose many, many years before.

It’s a tale of wandering eyes, unfounded suspicions, basic desires, long-held superstitions and unfortunate misunderstandings, and it’s all presented in a light-hearted and matter-of-fact manner that’s quite amiable but not really all that compelling.

It isn’t the narrative of “Ten Canoes” that makes the movie interesting so much as it is the immersion it offers into the Aboriginal way of life and the glimpse it gives of an ancient way of life.

What de Heer and his collaborators provide here is a slice of traditional culture, one that the majority of white viewers will not have been privy to before. And the straightforward way it’s presented may well make viewers more open to the experience.

Extras include multiple featurettes and documentaries, as well as interviews with the key players.

Rating :
Reviewer : Guy Davis