June 09, 2007

WaPo reviews Ten Canoes

'Ten Canoes':  A Buoyant Aboriginal OriginalThe movie, which Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr directed, has an almost documentary realism thanks to the participation of the cast, most of whom are the indigenous residents of Ramingining in northern Australia. As the actors perform daily tasks such as the stripping and soaking of a particular bark for the eponymous canoes, the body painting of their dead, or the dances they perform for those deceased members joining the afterlife, we can feel the palpable connections between them and their ancestors.

Unlike the 1980 comedy "The Gods Must Be Crazy," in which natives of the Kalahari desert were exploited for visual slapstick, "Ten Canoes" presents its characters as members of a complex society where the rule of law is paramount; they are not God's naked brown children, painted and nose-pierced for our superior delectation. And as we watch how they solve problems--not with ooga-booga mysticism but time-honored rules and regulations learned from the bounties, secrets and wisdom of nature, we realize that "Ten Canoes" is more than a charming, mythical story about Aborigines. It's about civilization.

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