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High Ground (Stephen Johnson, 2019) wr. Chris Anastassiades, dp Andrew Commis; Simon Baker, Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Callan Mulvey, Jack Thompson, Caren Pistorius, Ryan Corr, Sean Mununggurr, Witiyana Marika, John Brumpton, David Field; drama; Indigenous themes; set NT, 1930
blurb: In a bid to save the last of his family, Gutjuk, a young Aboriginal man, teams up with ex-soldier Travis to track down Baywara, the most dangerous warrior in the Territory, his uncle.
The story is not unrelated to Ion Idriess, Man Tracks, 1937. See Rielly.
Jake Watt: With its sprawling desert vistas and violent frontier conflict, the Outback of old isn't so far removed from the Wild West of American legend and cinema - which is why, of course, there's a whole subgenre of Aussie Westerns, from Mad Dog Morgan to The Proposition, Sweet Country, and The Nightingale. Maxwell Johnson doesn't reinvent this wheel and some of his action sequences are clumsily staged, but he does provide High Ground' with a few points of difference, particularly Gutjuk's community's depictions and the missionary's influence. Chris Anastassiades' screenplay digs deeper into the Indigenous familial atmosphere by showing the individuals who make up the tribal tapestry. This allows viewers to see that the complex systems of organisation, communication and care may vary from others, but they are intricate and fragile. It also largely avoids becoming a white saviour film by focusing heavily on the perspective of Gutjuk. Switch.
I've never seen more 'language consultants' in the credits than on this. It must have been hard work for the team of subtitlers.
I found it engaging to begin with, especially as it seemed to showing the conditions and relationships as one could imagine they actually were. But the story lacks a meaningful structure, and the ending is unlikely - with (spoiler) all the white people dead and only two Aboriginal characters surviving (as if), leaving the stage, like that of Hamlet, littered with corpses. Ultimately disappointing.
Derek Rielly 2019, Gulpilil, Macmillan: 25-31.
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