BWW Review: SWEET COUNTRY at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas

BWW Review: SWEET COUNTRY at Palace Nova Eastend CinemasReviewed by Libby Drake, Saturday 27th January 2018

In Sweet Country we see a strong contrast between the beauty of the landscape and the ugliness of the unfolding story.

Set in 1929, in outback Northern Territory, Sweet Country draws on the Western genre. Aboriginal man, Sam Kelly, shoots a white landowner in self-defence. In fear for his life, he and his wife flee. Sergeant Fletcher gathers a small group of men and, guided by an Aboriginal tracker, they set out to hunt Sam down.

Hamilton Morris (ABC's TVs series 8MMM Aboriginal Radio) plays Sam, a man seemingly resigned to his lot in life, but also a man with dignity. He is treated well on the property where he is employed, owned by devout Christian Fred Smith (Sam Neil), but he suffers at the hands of others. When he shoots the white man, he is sure that he knows how the scenario will play out. He sees no option but to run. Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) is relentless in his pursuit of Sam, even when, after two weeks, the tracker and others have all turned and gone home.

This is another powerful film from director, Warwick Thornton, the man who brought us the outstanding Samson and Delilah. His background in cinematography really makes this film shine. The camera lingers and revels in the landscapes, from red desert to ancient gorges, to a stunning waterhole. The shots on the massive salt-pan are breathtaking.

Another key feature of Sweet Country is the sound, or rather, the lack of it. There is no music. Instead, we hear the natural music of the landscape: the wind in the grass, birds, insects, horses hooves, water; and violence.

Violence is everywhere. The isolation of this time and place brings fear, vulnerability, and helplessness, for aboriginal people, for women and, particularly, for aboriginal women.

The shocking attitudes towards and treatment of the aboriginal people adds this film to the steady stream of films and plays being brought to public attention, such as Secret River, which was seen at the Adelaide Festival last year.

Sweet Country has already received international attention, including winning a Special Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

This bleak, but visually beautiful film is slow moving, yet never boring. It is filled with moments of suspense when we are unsure which way the story will turn next.

Sweet Country is currently screening at Palace Nova Eastend and at the fabulous new Palace Nova Prospect.

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