Film Review: Sweet Country

What: Sweet Country (Bunya Productions, Transmission Films)

Who: Written by David Tranter and Steven McGregor and directed by Warwick Thornton.

When: National release January 25th

Sweet Country is a captivating new Australian film inspired by true events that took place in the Northern Territory in 1929. The film is set less than one hundred years earlier than, and in the same diverse and enchanting landscape as, Warwick Thornton’s previous feature film, the bittersweet Samson and Delilah. Sweet Country portrays the plight of Aboriginal stockman Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris, in his first acting role), who, in an act of self-defense, shoots and kills a malevolent white landowner. Kelly has to immediately flee with his wife to avoid persecution, setting in chain a gruelling manhunt through central Australia.

Thornton, also the director of photography, captures the unique beauty of remote Alice Springs through the form of the traditional Hollywood Western: a genre which, in its American form, has notably been associated with severe oppression of Indigenous people.

sam
Hamilton Morris as stockman Sam Kelly
Image Credit: https://www.ritzcinema.com.au/Movie/Sweet-Country

Established actors Bryan Brown (as a hardened police sergeant) and Sam Neill (a preacher and the film’s only entirely virtuous character) support the non-professional and exceptionally naturalistic Aboriginal actors who anchor the film.

Gripping from the first shot, Sweet Country is intentionally void of soundtrack so as to avoid influencing the audience’s emotional reactions. Editor Nick Myers cleverly weaves flashbacks and flashforwards throughout, allowing a clearer insight into the characters and foreshadowing their eventual fates.

The violent and visceral elements within the film, including gory wounds, rape and frequent strong language, can at times be confronting and difficult to watch. Thornton effectively conveys the brutalising and devastating treatment of Aboriginal people during a period which is unnervingly close to the present day.

“A lot of our history was written by colonisers who wanted to write these stories about themselves to put themselves in a favourable light. A lot of it is a lie. Now we’re starting to write down our history with our version of events.” – Warwick Thornton

Sweet Country
Brown as Sergeant Fletcher with Neill as preacher Fred Smith with newcomers Morris as Sam Kelly and his wife played by Natassia Gorey Furber
Image Credit: http://www.transmissionfilms.com.au/films/sweet-country

Extremely well received at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals, Sweet Country made its Australian premiere at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival and will be playing nationally in cinemas from the 25th of January.

Although Sweet Country contains strong themes, I highly encourage all to experience this poignant and devastating film, to examine their feelings throughout, and, through witnessing these injustices from the past, hopefully increase awareness of the racism that is still widespread in Australian culture today.

Four out of five stars

Milly Farmer

Follow this link for more information on the film: https://bunyaproductions.com.au/sweet-country/

Reference:

Maddox, G. (2017). Warwick Thornton thrilled as outback western Sweet Country given standing ovation. The Sydney Morning Herald. [online] Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/a-new-kind-of-dreaming-warwick-thornton-on-the-acclaim-for-sweet-country-20171005-gyvhu5.html [Accessed 22 Jan. 2018].

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