Australasian Cinema > films > Sweet Country
Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton, 2017) prod. David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin, wr. Steven McGregor, David Tranter, dp Dylan River, Warwick Thornton; Bryan Brown, Matt Day, Tremayne and Trevon Doolan, Anni Finsterer, Natassia Gorey-Furber, John Gibson, Ewen Leslie, Lachlan J. Modrzynski, Hamilton Morris, Sam Neill, Sotiris Tzelios, Thomas M. Wright; western
Inspired by real events, Sweet Country follows Aboriginal stockman Sam and his wife Lizzie as they go on the run across the outback, after Sam kills a white station owner in self-defence. They are pursued across glorious but harsh desert country by Sergeant Fletcher, Aboriginal tracker Archie and two local landowners. As an expert bushman, Sam has little difficulty outlasting them. Eventually for the health of his pregnant wife, he decides to give himself up. Sam is put on trial, but will justice be served?
Conventional western, but in 1929 Australian context, with colonialist, racist themes. Depressing, leavened by flashbacks/forwards. Tasteless abomination of Johnny Cash song immediately following end of film.
Stately but universally accessible in its deft genre touches and border-crossing political import, the mostly English-language Sweet Country has the makings of an international arthouse talking point, sure to reach far more eyeballs than Thornton’s already healthily distributed debut [Samson and Delilah]. Sales should be lively following the film’s Venice competition premiere, followed by a prestigious Toronto Platform berth. Sam Neill’s presence in a critical role should be a selling point both domestically and abroad, though this is a true ensemble piece, generously allocated among its fine actors. Indeed, much of the tension and structural surprise in this beautifully paced film derives from its many, unexpected switches and reversals of character emphasis — which drive home the sense of a story being told about a far larger community than the one shown on screen, without skimping on individual human detail. Guy Lodge, Variety.
Warwick Thornton never ceases to amaze with his talent for not just writing and directing but at bringing home the truth to audiences who may come unprepared for the striking and often harsh reality his films capture. Sweet Country has been acclaimed internationally, but that’s not the real reason this film resonates. It’s remarkable storytelling that explores and examines whilst at the same time tearing the scab off the still fresh wound made by colonialism. The cinematography again is a winner for me in this film, with both Warwick and his son Dylan River taking credit. It’s majestic and tragic at the same time and as with all Warwick’s films I’ve seen, gives such a strong sense of country and connection that hits home. Annie Parnell.
There is a wonderful metafilmic moment which makes me want to forgive the postcolonialist Johnny Cash, um, invasion. There's a scene in which the 'townsfolk' (one finds American terminology appropriate in this film) are watching - of all things - and how utterly impossible - the projection of a print of the world's first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906!) - in something like Alice Springs in 1929 - as if ... when Bryan Brown's character destroys the illusion by walking through and pulling down the sheet on which the film is being projected. The central Indigenous character's name is Sam Kelly. The 'Kelly' relationships are obviously being referred to, but I think there is another level of meaning that is opened up, to do with the breaking of cinematic illusions/conventions - that cleverer people than me will want to write about.
Garry Gillard | New: 7 July, 2018 | Now: 24 March, 2022