Contemporary World Cinema | 2018 | 113 minutes | Rated R
Stranger Says: This movie does not fuck around. It gets right to it: the brutal colonization of Australia. Set in the 1920s in the outback of the Northern Territory, the film is about a black man, his black wife, and their black daughter, and the family’s religious instructor, a white man. It’s not paradise, but they manage to get along. One day, an alcoholic and rock-hard racist ex-soldier shows up and makes the black man work for nothing, rapes his wife, and considers raping their daughter. Eventually, the black man kills the white man. And this begins a time of trouble that ends with this question: How will Australia survive this madness?
SIFF Says:As abundant and persistent as the Western genre has been over the years, few Western narratives have critically examined the mistreatment of indigenous peoples by colonizers. Even fewer have been told from an indigenous character’s perspective. Enter SWEET COUNTRY—a harsh, socially conscious Western set in the Australian outback circa 1929. Sam (Hamilton Morris) is a middle-aged Aboriginal farmhand that is sent by his boss Fred (Sam Neill) to help bitter World War I veteran Harry (Ewen Leslie) renovate his cattle yards. However, Harry’s hateful view of Aboriginals causes their relationship to deteriorate. A fight breaks out and Sam kills Harry in self-defense. After Sam goes on the run with his wife, an all-white posse led by Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) attempts to bring the couple to justice. Assuming a spare, deliberate chase movie structure, SWEET COUNTRY successfully marries the characters and scenarios found in classic Westerns with culturally specific grounding in Australian history, politics, and racial tension. Boasting affecting performances (particularly from its Aboriginal non-actors) and hypnotic images of the Outback’s rugged terrain, Warwick Thornton’s film thoughtfully explores the unethical treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal population.
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