Monday Oct 6 – 7:00pm
Arena Theater Film Club presents Ten Canoes on Monday, October 6, at 7 pm. This is the first major Australian feature film with the dialog in an indigenous Aboriginal language (the story’s narration is in English). Ten Canoes won a special jury prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and was Australia’s official entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2007 Academy Awards.
Writer/director Rolf de Heer creates a story within a story, one taking place 1,000 years ago, long before Aboriginal contact with the outside world, and the other in mythological antiquity, the source of tribal beliefs, customs, laws, and rituals. De Heer has been highly praised by the Aboriginal community for evoking its culture and traditions with such authenticity, respect, and grace.
Ten men from differing tribes gather to make canoes for goose-egg hunting in a vast swamp. The expedition is led by an older man (Peter Minygululu), accompanied for the first time by his much younger brother (Jamie Gulpilil, son of David Gulpilil, one of Australia’s most renowned actors and this film’s narrator). Aware that his brother covets the youngest of his three wives, Minygululu decides to distract him with a rambling tale that teaches valor, bravery, adherence to law, and patience.
The sequences set a thousand years ago are in black and white, emulating 1930s photographs taken by anthropologist Donald Thomson that inspired the film. The scenes from antiquity are in color. This technique enables the viewer to know which time period is on the screen, which is helpful since Jamie Gulpilil and several other actors appear in both. The film masterfully evokes the blurring of natural and supernatural in ancient Aboriginal experience. As the egghunt proceeds, the mythological story unfolds with twists and turns that include a disappearance, sorcery, revenge, and the consequences of mistaken assumptions.
The leisurely pace of Ten Canoes includes just enough surprises to keep the viewer fully engrossed, but also allows time to ponder how universal desires and frustrations collide with the power of custom — in this instance the Aboriginal practice of older men taking multiple wives, depriving younger men of any mate at all. The moral of the story is timeless and just as applicable today as it has been for eons, but the process of getting there is an intertwined and intriguing film experience.
Australia, 2006; unrated. Running time: 90 minutes. In Ganalbingu and other Aboriginal dialects with English subtitles.