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Bishops Castle Film Society

Sweet Country - 6 Mar 2019

dir Warwick Thornton. Australia. 2018. 113m

Australian films have been absent from our programme these past few years – a regrettable omission, for in the hands of a company of directors (with Peter Weir and Philip Noyce as leading auteurs) Australia has been contributing significantly to international cinema since the 1970s. Themes of Australian history and identity have tended to predominate, but more recently cineastes have taken up the issue of race. Rabbit Proof Fence (which we screened in 2003) and Mystery Road (2013) are powerful examples, as is this season’s Sweet Country. The director, Warwick Thornton, is an indigenous Australian with a background in cinematography and a keen interest in the genre of westerns, as is readily apparent in this film.

 

It is set in the outback of the 1920s and concerns the shooting by an aboriginal farmworker of a white man who had been on the point of shooting him. The audience is presented with a clear case of self-defence against racially motivated brutality, but Sam knows that to contemporary whites he will be regarded as a murderer and punished as such. He flees the scene with his wife, and a manhunt ensues. The film’s most striking feature is its presentation of the landscape – an unremittingly harsh terrain country, far from ‘sweet’ but beautifully coloured. Thornton’s racial themes have a clear twenty-first century relevance, not only for Australia but worldwide.

A few flash-forward premonitions notwithstanding, this is storytelling with an unfussy directness. Thornton eschews a score, instead foregrounding the sounds of the bush. And the look of the film is as striking as that of his earlier picture Samson & Delilah. This sweet country leaves its mark on the men who live on it – clothes, skin, even sky are all smeared with a dust the colour of dried blood. (Wendy Ide, Guardian, 10 March 2108)


 

 

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