Cinema Review: Charlie's Country | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, October 24th, 2020  

Charlie’s Country

Studio: Monument Releasing
Directed by Rolf de Heer

Jun 22, 2015 Web Exclusive
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In an odd way, Charlie’s Country, a film about the titular aboriginal man who leaves his proto-reservation to spiritually reclaim his land from white men, could easily persuade one to better appreciate the world around them. Though it may or may not be the primary intention of Rolf de Heer’s film, that he lingers on the quietest, most innocuous moments in the wild nonetheless makes that idea resonant and powerful.

When Charlie intends to hunt a wild animal, his efforts are rebuked: his tools confiscated, the large mammal also taken away, and each time he returns to the police they tell him he needs a license which he can’t afford. Nor does Charlie really have a home of his own; rather, it’s one for his larger family on what amounts to a reservation created by the Australian government. Fatigued of the runaround and the refusal to allow him to hunt as he pleases, he goes off.

But it isn’t like Kerouac or anyone of that ilk: there’s an underlying commentary on a kind of imperialism that exists, a political dynamic between white men and the people of color that have been unceremoniously removed from their homes or relegated into particular areas. Charlie is adamant that these white men are on his land. It’s true, inasmuch as he’s one of a long line of aboriginal people who were indeed there first. It’s a quiet conflict, however, one that seems to have, prior to Charlie, petered out. The people around him in this reservation seem content with the conditions (it appears to be low income families/residents), so his excursion acts a kind of protest.

De Heer’s camera seems to owe much to the European masters of the long take, from Bergman to Tarkovsky; he loves watching Charlie sit, making fish or lying on the ground, or follow him as he walks. Film critic Peter Labuza spoke of Mad Max: Fury Road when saying that it was a film that appreciated the wind in the trees, but Charlie’s Country builds on that (both are from Australian directors) and lets the audience listen to it, become acclimated to it, until those sounds become music.

The rain falling, each drop pulverizing on impact on a leaf. The steam from embers put out by the rain. The footsteps in the uncertain terrain. Each long stride through grass. This is the music of Charlie’s Country. Its slow pace is deliberate, and the film would only be improved upon if absolutely no score were used – the intermittent piano music undercuts what de Heer is able to create naturally.

The journey Charlie takes for some sort of late self-actualization, as manifested through the environment he stays in and the freedom he is allowed in that setting, is patient, but no less emotional. There’s a serene quality to David Gulpilil’s performance, assured and confident. It feels as if he knows his foot to be on the ground and each step to have a kind of weight to it. And he carries it. It rests on his shoulders and in his sinewy hands. 

charliescountry.com

Author rating: 6.5/10

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