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Ten Canoes


Stars: David Gulpilil, Crusoe Kurrdal, Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin

Director: Rolf de Heer

Whimsical, if streaked with 'genitalia gossip', this is an often fascinating, if very protracted look at Aboriginal life in the remote Australian swamplands hundreds of years ago.

The story begins, though, in a not-so-distant past, when a headstrong young buck, Dayindi (Jamie Gulpilil) takes a fancy to the nubile third wife of a tribal elder. To cool his ardour, the elder tells him a cautionary tale of a similar situation that befell their ancestors.

Matters here are complicated by the three wives all belonging to the older brother (Kurrdal) of our young hero (Jamie Gulpilil again). A stranger, at first suspected of 'stealing souls', is thought to have made off with Kurrdal's second wife.

The subsequent plot is long in the telling and its final moral plain to foretell. But there are striking images of tribal hunters cooking, sleeping and eating in trees while on a goose hunt, and a hypnotic 'death dance' by one of the characters that climaxes the tale.

It does, however, go on a bit. 'Ah,' chuckles The Storyteller (David Gulpilil, the original teenage Aborigine in Walkabout), 'Dayindi is impatient to hear what will happen.' He's not the only one. 'Has he learned anything yet?' asks one character, another adding, wisely, 'only thing he learns is Minygululu take long time to tell story.'

Alan Frank

Australia 2006. UK Distributor: The Works. Colour by Atlab.
92 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 30 May 2007