Shame on me. I should have posted this story while we were still in South Australia, but didn’t get around to it.
Every time we visit Australia, we search out Australian-produced movies. Today we went into Adelaide to see a new one called Sweet Country.
Here’s how Rupert Murdoch’s news.com.au film critic described it:
Sweet Country had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year and was rapturously received by critics around the world who found a universal emotional resonance in a uniquely Australian story. It picked up a Special Jury Prize at Venice. It also won the Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The sparse landscapes and the ubiquitous red dust of the Australian outback, and the laconic, no bullsh*t characters that inhabit the land naturally lends itself to Westerns. While taking its cues from the genre, Sweet Country is not a conventional Western. There are no clear white hats or black hats and the climax isn’t some shootout at sunset.
A subtle but breathtaking piece of work, Sweet Country stabs right at the heart of Australian identity and the heartbreak that built this country, told through a wrenching tale of justice and injustice.
Set in the interwar era in the (Northern Territory) outback, Sweet Country is the story of Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), a quiet and unassuming Aboriginal man working on Fred Smith’s (Sam Neill) property. When a new neighbour, Harry March (Ewen Leslie), asks to borrow Sam, who he refers to as “black stock”, to help with some fencing, Fred reluctantly agrees.
Sam, his wife and his niece, spend two days on Harry’s property. A drunk and quick to anger, Harry is described by those who encounter him as “not right in the head”. He’s a WWI veteran who saw horrors on the Western Front — we know he’s suffering from PTSD, which makes his supposed villainy much more complex than it would be in a lesser film.
When events lead to Sam shooting Harry in self-defence, Sam and his wife immediately take off, on the run from the law that will surely strike him down for killing a white man. The town’s head cop, Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown), assembles a hunting party and goes after the outlaw pair.
Sweet Country is a slow burn, an almost meditative reflection on the power dynamics between the white colonialists and the indigenous population they displaced, and the long shadow of our history.
Every performance is hypnotic and layered, including all the mostly first-time local actors Thornton found in the NT while the otherworldly landscapes of the outback are beautifully captured by Thornton’s lens (he was also the director of photography).
At times transcendent and at times deeply uncomfortable, Sweet Country is Australian filmmaking at its best.
Here’s my one sentence elevator review of Sweet Country: The incredibly ugly side of life in an incredibly beautiful landscape.
I gave it a thumbs up, but Jamie found it so disturbing that she gave it a thumbs down.
I doubt that Sweet Country will ever find its way to a theater near you, but you can find it here on YouTube.com.