This semester, I'm studying Australian Cinema at RMIT, and it's looking to be a promising course. I've decided reviewing the films we watch here isn't a bad idea at all. First week back though, and I'm already quite exhausted, and on the weekend my time was taken up on a short film (I was up at five a.m Saturday morning, and 6 a.m on Sunday, home at 7 p.m both days), so this first review will only be a short one. First up for the course, Rabbit Proof Fence.
Based on the true story, and depicting what I think is one of the most despicable periods in Australia's history, Rabbit Proof Fence is the story of Molly Craig, her sister Daisy and their cousin Gracie. Set in 1931, the three girls become a part of what we now call the 'stolen generation' - children of half Aboriginal, half Anglo heritage forcibly taken from their mothers and relocated by the government to 'educate' them, and to hopefully breed out these so called 'half castes'. Molly, Daisy and Gracie were taken from their mothers to the Moore River settlement to be re-educated, but Molly led her sister and cousin away and escaped, knowing they could find their way back home following the rabbit proof fence (literally built to keep the rabbits out of that part of the country). Australian actor David Gulpilil plays the tracker, Moodoo and the film also boasts an appearance from Deborah Mailman, Gary McDonald, Roy Billing and Kenneth Branagh as Mr. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines.
For a film dealing with such traumatic subject matter as the stolen generation, director Philip Noyce (of such films as Patriot Games, and most recently Salt) has handled it with care and delicacy. It tells the story simply, and is not unnecessarily or overly dramatic. Such moments as when the three girls are ripped from their mothers arms and taken away are painfully raw and emotional, the grief of the mothers (and Molly and Daisy's grandmother) horrible to witness. The vastness of the Western Australian landscape is beautifully shot, and magnifies the isolation of the girls. It's harsh and hot and unforgiving.
The decision to cast non-actors in the roles of the children paid off for the director, as the three girls all put in good, steady performances, but the characters that caught my interest (and the interest of others I spoke to) were those of Gulpilil's tracker and Branagh's Neville. The trackers own daughter is, for all intents, imprisoned in at Moore river as well, yet he is tasked with tracking girls down and bringing them back if they escape, which he does with quick efficiency. However, though he comes close, he cannot catch up to the girls. Before they escaped, he asked permission if he could return to his own home, but was denied. Was he letting them go on purpose, as a sort of revenge we wondered? What thoughts were at work beneath his calm and silent facade? And Branagh played A.O Neville to perfection - to play a man who could really believe he was helping these children, and ordered their removal from their homes all the while being so aloof and unmoved by their emotions cannot be easy. He is truly a character to be wondered at (Neville always maintained his belief in his own actions).
The film ends with images of the real Molly and Daisy. Gracie (and this is shown in the film) was recaptured after being led to believe her mother was at Wiluna. She later died, and they never saw her again. After walking hundreds of kilometres, and many, many weeks, Molly and Daisy made it home to Jigalong. Molly later married and had two daughters of her own. She was taken back with them to Moore River. She escape with one daughter, and walked back to Jigalong for a second time. This daughter, Annabelle, was taken from Molly when she was three, and Molly never saw her again. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear it.
This film is a winner of three AFI Awards, those being Best Picture, Best Sound and Best Original Score. Adapted from the book by Molly's oldest daughter, it is an incredible story that needs to be told, and not forgotten. I give it four stars out of five.