Charlie’s Country Screen 8 articles

Charlie’s Country


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  • While the countless close-ups of Gulpilil's weathered, eloquent face work most of the time, partially making up for the film's minimal, often banal dialogue, that too gets wearying by the end. Despite some first-rate performances, Charlie's Country finally offers little more than a moderately engaging slice of contemporary aboriginal life that mostly fails to dig beneath the surface of this underrepresented world.

  • ...Further rich pickings could be found among the sidebar’s screenings at the Salle Debussy, including Charlie’s Country by Australian auteur Rolf de Heer, with David Gulpilil as a nomadic aborigine in the Northern Territory gaining a well-deserved acting award.

  • The film is entertaining enough, though it deals with familiar subject matter. It exists, though, primarily as a love letter to David Gulpilil, the most successful Australian aboriginal actor. His first film is also one of his best-known outside Australia, Walkabout, which I saw when it first came out, just after I had gotten my BA and was about to commence film-studies as a graduate student. Gulpilil turns in an endearing performance that pretty much carries the movie.

  • This humanist Australian work screened last year in Cannes’s Un Certain Regard section, whose jury awarded the film’s leading actor, David Gulpilil, for his great performance. There has never been another presence in films quite like that of Gulpilil, a trained dancer who made his screen debut with 1971’s Walkabout—a wiry imp, both mischievous and mournful, risking breaking the screen each time he laughs.

  • The film’s tone and pace suit Charlie’s demeanor, which, as persuasively and unpredictably conveyed by David Gulpilil, keeps it from falling into mere sermonizing.

  • It plays like a daily comic strip or a series of silent-era one-reelers, with Charlie sometimes joined by his buddy Black Pete (producer Peter Djigirr) or antagonized by clueless white policeman Luke (Luke Ford). What it adds up to is a broadly drawn, but thoughtful, tragicomic vision of impoverished indigenous life, with allusions to Gulpilil’s background as a dancer and his public struggles with alcoholism.

  • An obligatory feel creeps into Charlie’s successive travails, as if Mr. De Heer is putting the character through his paces and surrounding him with a dutifully representative spectrum of sympathetic-to-condescending whites. The simplistic piano score doesn’t help. But Mr. de Heer’s relentless treatment may well suit the background history of Western land appropriation, which isn’t necessarily one of elegance or subtlety.

  • Much of Charlie’s Country proceeds in this observational mode, exercising the transformative power of Gulpilil’s face. Whether laughing, crying, mumbling to himself, or projecting a valiant stoicism, Gulpilil — beneath a white beard and a blanket of shaggy hair — commands the screen in close-ups liable to run for minutes at a time.