David Gulpilil is an inherently interesting man. Conflicted between the world of the white man and his culture. At the Cannes Film Festival this year, most actors would be walking the red carpet, posing for the cameras and participating in the interview and promotion circuit. However Gulpilil chose instead to involve himself in the issues of his local community. Subsequently and deservingly he was awarded a best actor prize at the prestigious festival for his work in Charlie’s Company. A seven minute standing ovation greeted this excellent film.
The film is the fourth collaboration between Rolf De Heer and the actor, and like most of De Heer’s work it is made for a pittance. Structurally and stylistically it is simply told, the camera locks in on the actor, and slowly and methodically never lets go. Charlie speaking in his native tongue, is dismissive of the white invaders for taking his land and imposing regulations. By the events shown in this semi-autobiographical story, I am not surprised that Aborigines are over-represented in the criminal justice system. A simple act of civil disobedience can result in an extended prison sentence.
Charlie refuses to adapt to the white man’s culture, he is instructed to have a gun licence for shooting a buffalo with his best mate Black Pete (Peter Djigirr). So, the local cop played by Luke Ford confiscates his gun, next he crafts a spear from scratch, yet has that confiscated by the same cop for being a dangerous weapon.
Even sitting in the park drinking copious amounts of beer results in harassment and imprisonment. At one point, fed-up Charlie heads bush, but his history of, smoking and drinking and a poor Western diet impacts his ability to live off the land and the result is quietly devastating.
Charlie’s Country deserves to be seen, it offers up a sombre representation of life on the margins of society. Yet at its core David Gulpilil produces one of the performances of the year.