Cannes critics hail Charlie’s Country

22 May, 2014 by Don Groves

David Gulpilil gives a bravura performance in Rolf de Heer’s powerful new drama according to the first reviews of Charlie’s Country, which had its world premiere in Un Certain Regard in Cannes.

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney hailed a “delicate but powerful film that functions as both a stinging depiction of marginalization and as a salute to the career of the remarkable actor who inhabits almost every frame.”


Variety’s Eddie Cockrell lauded an “atmospheric and cautionary tale of a ‘Blackfella’ caught between two cultures [which] has all the makings of a solid art house performer."

Co-written by the director and the actor while he was in jail and then in a drug and alcohol rehab centre, the semi-autobiographical film stars Gulpilil as an aging man who struggles to understand how he should define himself as an Aboriginal in modern Australia.

Entertainment One will launch the film produced by Nils Erik Nielsen, Peter Djigirr and de Heer on July 17. It’s the third collaboration between de Heer and Gulpilil after The Tracker and Ten Canoes.

De Heer said in Cannes, "David Gulpilil and I have been friends for a long time. The success of two of my previous films is down to him, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. I found out that he was in prison and went to see him. He needed help, but the only real help I could offer him was to feature him in my next film. While he was in prison, we thought the film through, above all in order to give him something to aim for beyond his time in jail.

"The film was supposed to be shot in the rainy season, in order to take advantage of the late rains. But that year there was virtually no rainy season, and when we began to film, it was already over. I lived in hope, but not a single drop fell. I ended up trying to rewrite the script without the rain, because we had to go on but it just wasn't working anymore. And then it began to pour in sheets – we were able to shoot a few scenes, but the filming was interrupted all the same because the rain played havoc with the roads and tracks."

Rooney observed, "Equal parts ethnographic and poetic, this eloquent drama's stirring soulfulness is laced with the sorrow of cultural dislocation but also with lovely ripples of humor and even joy.

“While the story is fictionalized and its dialogue improvised (in English and the Yolngu language of the setting), its parallels to Gulpilil's recent past make it alive with authenticity. And yet, the film's observations about spiritual resilience in the face of white colonization and irreconcilable societal imbalance enrich it with emotional universality. It's the most affecting depiction of contemporary Aboriginal experience since Warwick Thornton’s Samson & Delilah.”

Cockrell wrote, “The tangled tale of Aboriginal relations in Australia is rendered richly personal in director Rolf de Heer’s 14th dramatic feature… anchored by the charismatic, tragicomic performance of indigenous icon David Gulpilil.

“Since his 1971 debut at 16 in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, Gulpilil has developed into an actor capable of mischievousness and gravitas, often within the same shot. His well-publicized bouts with alcoholism and the law haven’t significantly tarnished his reputation, and represent the embodiment of the societal tensions addressed in the film.

“So too, the Dutch-born de Heer has built a solid reputation as a filmmaker not so much fascinated as moved to modest yet probing action by social friction and injustice (his earliest major success, 1993’s Bad Boy Bubby, was the first of four of his films to be selected by Cannes).”