Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

(Image from IMP Awards)

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

A true story about three mixed race Aboriginal girls who were taken from their homes and who subsequently escaped their settlement and headed home - a 1500 mile journey along one of Australia's so called 'rabbit proof' fences. The film is credited with igniting debate on the issue of the 'stolen generations', mixed race children who were forcibly 'resettled' away from their families for various misguided reasons. The narrative is about as straightforward as it gets - the three girls are grabbed from their home in one of the film's early and most powerful scenes, and are transported to a settlement for mixed race children; they promptly escape and head for home, and are pursued first by a skilled Aboriginal tracker, and later by the police. Their story becomes something of a sensation throughout Australia, and as a result the girls are given aid by helpful strangers along the way.

It's a simple but emotionally evocative tale - I can't think of a basic narrative that is more immediately engaging than the quest for freedom against improbable odds and the struggle for survival such a quest entails. The cast is full of unknowns - apart from the jarring appearance of Kenneth Branagh - and all of the actors do terrific work, particularly the three girls the story revolves around. The writing hits all the right emotional beats; the characters might be a bit sketchy, but are sufficiently fleshed out for the story they are in. I have one major complaint about the film - the storytelling feels somewhat ordinary, with scenes rarely creating a sense of fear or hopelessness or of awe at how remarkable the girls' journey is. This is probably due more to the somewhat ordinary directing rather than the writing. There are some stunning visuals in there, however, particularly of the desolate and oppressive Australian outback (much like 'The Proposition'!)

'Rabbit Proof Fence' is a well made, inspirational film that falls short of being something truly special, but still packs quite a punch. The fact that it's based on true events does, as is often the case, give it some added gravitas, especially in the epilogue which features some of the real individuals portrayed in the film.

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