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Australia 2002
Directed by
Phillip Noyce
92 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Jim Thomson
4 stars

Rabbit Proof Fence

Synopsis: In 1930's Australia, three young half-caste children (Aborigines of 'mixed-blood') are forcibly removed from their families and placed in a correctional institution, preparing them for integration into the "civilized" white world. Escaping, they begin the 1500 mile journey back to their homeland.

Being billed as "arguably the most important Australian films in 20 years" certainly leaves Rabbit Proof Fence little room for error. But does Phillip Noyce, home for the holidays, come through with the goods? Well, he's  delivered a tight, relevant piece with a superb cast and beautiful photography from D.O.P. Christopher Doyle, so if he's missed the mark, it's not by much.

Whilst in true Australian form this is a film championing the underdog, more importantly this is our first "stolen generations" film. While, in terms of narrative, it is about three girls trying to find their way home, it's also about our nation owning up to its past, acknowledging the events that have transpired, and (hopefully) forging a better way forward.

So how has Noyce achieved this? Principally through characterisation. Kenneth Branagh's Mr A O Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia is no one-dimensional man. With the graceless gift of time, we can see how heinous Neville's actions were, yet Branagh still manages to instill a sense of justness into his acts. Simply put, this was a man doing what he thought was best for the lives of those he "controlled". Nevertheless, the true stars are the three girls, (Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury and Laura Monaghan). What's remarkable about these performers (apart from the fact that it's their first time in front of the cameras) is their strength and determination. A feature film is a heavy load to carry, but these three pull it off with natural tenacity.

This is not a story to be proud of, and yet the screening I attended received a standing ovation. Noyce has clearly struck a nerve with the viewing public, telling a heartbreaking story with the panache of a master. Hopefully it won't be too long until he graces our shores again. While Rabbit Proof Fence will undoubtedly be well received in Oz-land, one wonders how other nations will perceive it.




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