Review by Jack Foley
TEN Canoes has the distinction of being the first feature film shot entirely in Aboriginal languages.
It won six Australian Film Institute Awards following its release in 2006 and was subsequently chosen as Australia’s official entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category for 2007 (but didn’t make the shortlist).
Co-directed by the Dutch born Rolf de Heer and the Aboriginal Peter Djigirr, the film offers a fascinating insight into a once thriving Aboriginal culture that has all but vanished because of the advance of the white population.
But it also requires a lot of patience from viewers and is far too rooted in arthouse sensibilities to really sustain the interest for the duration of its 90 minutes.
Set a thousand years ago, Ten Canoes follows 10 men as they head into the forest to strip bark and make canoes in preparation for the tribal goose egg gathering trip.
Sensing that his unmarried younger brother Dayinid (Jamie Gulpilil) has the hots for the youngest of his three wives, Old Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) recalls a cautionary fable about the dangers of adultery that involves kidnapping, sorcery and revenge gone wrong.
Both stories are relayed via an English speaking narrator (David Gulpilil), who promises an experience “like you’ve never seen before”.
As potentially exciting as this sounds, the film relies a little too heavily on suggestion and imagery and feels ponderous as a result.
de Heer and Djigirr clearly conform to the Terrence Malick school of filmmaking and Ten Canoes is as much about the environment as it is the Aboriginals themselves, which can often interrupt the film’s flow.
The result opens the door to an intriguing culture and is tinged with the tragedy of their gradual demise but it wears its artistic roots a little too heavily on its sleeve and is definitely an acquired taste.
Running time: 92mins