July 20, 2007

Ten Canoes is tough going

'Canoes' voyages into tribal mythEver-venturesome Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer, in his beautiful but demanding "Ten Canoes," takes the viewer back 1,000 years to evoke the lives of Aborigines and even further, to a mythological antiquity, the source of tribal beliefs, customs, laws and rituals. De Heer, whose films include the well-received "The Tracker," has understandably been highly praised by the Aboriginal community for evoking its culture and traditions with such authenticity, respect and grace.

In his wholly admirable fidelity to the leisurely pace and endless convolutions of Aboriginal storytelling, De Heer has made a movie that is indeed tough going. Most viewers, aside from those with a passion for the ethnographic, are not likely to find it a conventionally involving film. Its key people emerge as individualistic—and sometimes amusing, as well as heroic—in their timeless revelations of the foibles of human nature, but their way of life seems so remote and distant it's difficult to identify with them. "Ten Canoes" is nonetheless audacious and impressive, but challenging work, requiring steadfast concentration.

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