2007, NR, 90 min. Directed by Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr. Starring Crusoe Kurddal, Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin, Peter Minygululu, Frances Djulibing, Philip Gudthaykudthay, David Gulpilil, Djigirr, Johnny Buniyira.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., July 27, 2007
In this rapidly changing world, it’s comforting to know there are a few constants that have existed since we humans first dragged ourselves out of the primordial muck millions of years ago and that will continue to exist millions of years from now, provided we don’t drag ourselves back into the muck before then. Ten Canoes, for instance, though set in the ancient, precivilized world of the Australian Ramingining tribe, may as well be a modern-day story for all its lessons about the value of community, the fear of strangers, the importance of the rule of law, the temptations of the fairer sex, and the madness of having more than one wife. Told in double-layer flashbacks by an irreverent aborigine narrator (Crocodile Dundee’s David Gulpilil), Ten Canoes first introduces us to Yeeralparil (David’s son, Jamie), a young member of the tribe who is single and frisky and is known to have a crush on one of his older brother Minygululu's (the character and actor) wives. Sensing danger, Minygululu takes Yeeralparil aside during a group fishing expedition to recount to him the ancient myth of Dayindi (also Jamie Gulpilil) – a myth about a young man who has a crush on one of his older brother’s wives. Okay, so Minygululu's tale doesn’t exactly pack the strongest allegorical punch in the world, and God only knows why writer/director de Heer felt the need to add that extra layer of narrative to his story if it was just going to be a replay of the previous layer, but the tale of Dayindi and his older brother, Ridjimiraril (Kurddal), is so rich in ethnological detail and care as to make such concerns seem petty. Like the 2001 Inuit drama The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat) and last year’s brilliant The Cave of the Yellow Dog, Ten Canoes is as much a work of anthropology as it is a narrative, and its true strength lies in its exploration of ancient aboriginal hunting practices, death rituals, and legal traditions – a simple system of clearly drawn lines and payback ceremonies our own convoluted web of suits and countersuits could never hope to aspire to. Add to that enough tantalizing shots of the Australian Outback to make the producers of the finest National Geographic nature documentaries weep openly, and you have a new and different kind of cinematic mythmaking. AFS@Dobie