In this Season of Calamity and Pestilence, you will be aware that cinemas have been closed for awhile. And I have heard your cries of disappointment and shrieks of longing from myself for the dearth of new cinema releases.
In an attempt to keep your cinematic sensitivities engaged and in light of National Reconciliation Week, I am re-releasing my review of Australian filmmaker Warwick Thornton's superb film, Sweet Country. As they say in food circles, here's one I prepared earlier.
SBS will be screening Sweet Country on Thursday 28 May as part of Reconciliation Week. It is also available for viewing through SBS On Demand.
Available on SBS On Demand until December 2020 (Sign in Account required--free account)
By Stefan Kussy
Westerns are quintessentially American. Australian director Warwick Thornton has taken the conventions of the Hollywood Western, overlaid them with an Australian veneer sourced from the Australian outback frontier of the late 1920s and created a film that is indelibly Australian.
When Aboriginal farmhand Sam Kelly kills white settler Harry March, a hunt ensues that leads to Sam’s trial.
The events that lead up to the shooting, Sam and his partner Lizzie’s escape to country and Sam’s trial before a judge in a small Northern Territory town are told simply yet contain complex notions and underpin stories about the land and the people who inhabit them, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
The mood and pace of the film respects the sense of timelessness the police, trackers and the accused experience when they enter the natural landscape. The film slowly builds to events and conclusions that are not what they may appear to be.
You must remember that this was a time when Aboriginal people were considered no more important than the animal stock on a farmer’s property. Harry March, in fact, asks Fred Smith where Smith got his “black stock”. Smith replies, “We’re all equals here”. Smith is an exception in his views.
The clash and strain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures is pinpointed in the story of an Aboriginal boy, Philomac, who strives to acquire the goods and trinkets possessed by the white settlers while being intertwined with the culture of traditional Aboriginal living.
All the standard Western characters are present, from the Indigenous elders Archie and Sam, preacher Fred Smith, and settlers Harry March and Mick Kennedy, to the local constabulary Sergeant Fletcher and the saloon owner Nell.
Characters are not simply cast as villains and heroes. Even the basest individuals exchange moments of mutual concern while acknowledging the hardships of the extreme conditions in which they live and survive. Thornton’s decision to use non-professional actors in his film enhances the experience.
The notion of the American Wild West and its rule of law and frontier justice are complemented in Warwick Thornton’s film by Aboriginal lore.
The term “sweet country” is both reflective of the connection that Sam and Archie have for their country and ironic in its statement that the land is being purloined by white settlers, who don’t have the same relationship with the land.
Thornton’s cinematography and direction are superb. His framing of landscapes and characters is loaded with atmosphere and expressions that talk more loudly than words. You can smell the natural world and the human intruders. Hygiene clearly was not uppermost on their agenda.
I would happily watch Sweet Country again and believe I would gain even more from a second immersion in the film.
Sweet Country is fabulous storytelling and proficient filmmaking.
Watch Official Trailer for Warwick Thornton's Sweet Country (Press > to play)