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Charlie's Country - Film Review

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by Jenny Esots (subscribe)
A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published July 13th 2014
Old ways colliding with the new
Charlie's Story tells the life story of Charlie, an Aboriginal elder living in Kakadu, Northern Territory.

A man who becomes a very disenchanted and mourns how his community is being run.

He laments and protests the food, the housing, the rigid rules and policing of the intervention brought in by the Howard government.



This film is very much autobiographical in portraying the life and times of David Gulpilil. The narrative of the film mirrors Gulpilil's time in jail, where he was serving time for assaulting his partner while they were both drunk.

Gulpilil is quoted in an interview at the World premier and launch of his film at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2013.

"It's a story about drugs and alcohol and everything I've done wrong."'

The film explores the indigenous way of living in the day, seemingly with no thought for tomorrow. Money is quickly spent and cigarettes soon gone.

Rolf de Heer directing David Gulpilil
Rolf de Heer directing David Gulpilil


Charlie decides that all the rules he has to live by are too hard.

Which leads him to steal a police car.

The story leads on to an exploration of bush ways. As Charlie disappears into the bush and has to find his own tucker, spurred on by another elder who relates 'there is a whole supermarket out there'.

After ill health he lands in Darwin and is on a downward spiral.

The film explores the juxtaposition of the 'old ways' with the Western way of doing things.

A huge chasm exists, with neither learning much from each other.

David Gulpilil
David Gulpilil is a great Aboriginal actor whose films have included Walkabout, Storm Boy, Crocodile Dundee, Rabbit Proof Fence and Australia.

He won a best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Charlie's Country.

The prize is part of the Un Certain Regard section, which runs parallel to the main competition and is designed to promote innovative filmmaking.

David Gulpilil
David Gulpilil


The viewer cannot keep their eyes off Gulpilil for the whole film.

He is in every scene.

A mesmerizing presence.

His image becomes so well known, it is a shock later in the film to see him in darker times with a totally different look.

But there is levity and that larrikin bravado on show.

The quiet, dry laconic humour of the elders is scattered throughout the film and finds its way to your heart.

The landscape also dominates, with sweeping panoramic shots of the Kakadu bush and horizon.

Consider who vies for the viewer more, Gulpilil or the landscape. It is with wonder the two intertwine.

As with a lot of Rolf de Heers work, there are unpleasant questions posed, with no answers or neat summaries given.



De Heer first started writing the Charlie's County after visiting Gulpilil in a time of crisis. He realised a new film would give his longtime friend a fresh start once he was released from prison.

Gulpilil also shares a credit for writing the film.

Although it is stated this is not a total autobiography of David Gulpilil, there are many, many parallels with his life. Another being of the fictional Charlie who like the veteran actor, once danced for the Queen at the Sydney Opera House.

Another example of the old ways, traditional dancing, meeting the newer Western establishment, of colonization and the visit of the Queen of England.

This is a long way from the conventional Hollywood drama. It is about finding a place to slowly unwind the stories and join in the wandering wisdom.

Go on this walkabout with Gulpilil and be rewarded.
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Why? Mesmerising actor on screen
When: From July 17th, 2014
Where: Cinemas nationally from July 17th.
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