London Film Festival: Charlie’s Country

Directed by Rolf de Heer
Starring David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr and Luke Ford

by Amanda Farley

Charlie’s Country is the latest film from director Rolf de Heer and Actor David Gulpilil and it is a triumph of storytelling. While not strictly autobiographical, this film is very much about Gulpilil, who co-wrote the script with de Heer.

Charlie (Gulpilil) lives in a remote Aboriginal community in northern Australia, where the traditional culture is disappearing due to government intervention and white culture seeping in. When his gun and spear are confiscated Charlie feels powerless to control his own destiny. Unable to hunt and feeling lost Charlie decides to live in the old way.

Leaving his community he moves into the bush. Where he goes in search of regaining his history and living like his ancestors. Confronted with the harshness of the elements and his own ageing body Charlie is eventually forced back to the settlement and from there to a hospital in Darwin. It will be a long time until he rejoins his community and his journey back to his home takes him to some dark and surprising places.

Gulpilil (who won the Best Actor award in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes) is breathtaking. He has an effortless charm and humour that leaves the audience continually wanting to spend more time with him. He is the glue around which everything else fits and he provides a performance that is career defining. He also brings humour and sense of hope to the story that helps to show life as it really is. Everything about this film feels authentic and real.

The best and most surprising part though is the slowness of the story. De Heer creates a naturalism that embraces the stillness of nature and life. Nothing feels hurried and yet each moment is filled with such soulful truth that the audience is captivated from beginning to end. He trusts in the power of the story and his actor and the result is an electrifying real portrait of the indigenous community and the hardships they face.

This is a story that should be heard and it is a film that is charming, sad, delightful and heartbreaking. If you only see one film this year, this would be an excellent choice.

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