Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rabbit-Proof Fence

While in Connecticut, I at long last watched Rabbit-Proof Fence. Now, I had better admit up front that Kenneth Branagh is in it, and that impelled me to watch it (not very quickly). But I do have a keen interest in Australia and South Africa, which have a black/white racial problem very differently inflected from ours (I'm in the U.S., international readers who stumble upon this). Rabbit tells the story of three aboriginal girls who were part of the Stolen Generations of children, particularly mixed-blood children, who were taken away from their parents and raised in government camps to be assimilated. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there's no doubt that there were at least some good intentions. But Molly just wanted to go home.

And so she did, dragging the other two smaller girls 1,500 miles across Australia, following the fence that had been built across the continent to keep rabbits out of the farmlands. It's faithfully based on a true story, which is just extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is that Molly did it twice. She was taken in as an adult, after having an operation, and escaped carrying her younger daughter and walked back to Jigalong again. She didn't see her older daughter again till the girl was all grown up. Her younger daughter was taken away again shortly after her second walk home, and she has never seen that girl again.

The situation of the aboriginal (or indigenous, which is the term the director used on the commentary; perhaps aboriginal is frowned upon in Australia now? still the term we use in the U.S.) peoples flares up every now and then in dialogue that reaches even to here. This film was one of those flashpoints. Another that I can remember was Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic torch at the Sydney Olympics. I expect there'll be some more talk when Baz Luhrmann's Australia comes out; there is apparently a small subplot featuring aboriginal actors.

Oh and yes, other than the story, the film itself is really quite good. Excellent acting all around, very well-balanced in cutting between the girls and Branagh as English-born A. O. Neville, the chief government official in charge of the removal. Beautiful score by Peter Gabriel. Director Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) describes in the commentary how he was getting disgusted with the Hollywood system while working with Harrison Ford on yet another Jack Ryan script, and went home to make this film.

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