Film review – Bran Nue Dae (2009)

13 January 2010

Willie (Rocky McKenzie)

The latest film by Indigenous Australian filmmaker Rachel Perkins (Radiance, One Night the Moon) is a road trip musical set in 1969. Indigenous teenager Willie (newcomer Rocky McKenzie) dutifully heads off to a boarding school in Perth only to then run away in order to get back to his home in Broome so he can declare his love for local singer Rosie (2006 Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy). Along the way Willie teams up with a homeless Indigenous elder named Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo) and a couple of hippy backpackers (one of whom is played by Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins). With Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush) from Willie’s boarding school in hot pursuit, the journey home involves much singing, a bit of dancing and a few wacky hi-jinks.

Bran Nue Dae began as a collection of songs written in the early 1980s by composer, musician and playwright Jimmy Chi and his band Knuckles. Chi later used these songs to create the original stage musical Bran Nue Dae, which successfully debuted at the 1990 Perth Festival. Twenty years later this new film adaptation feels exactly like a twenty year old show that may have worked wonderfully as a piece of community theatre but not so on the big screen. The film is so incredibly well–intentioned and full of energy that you almost hate yourself for finding it so twee but overall the prevailing pantomime aesthetic of Bran Nue Dae is just too strong. The over-the-top performances would usually be suitable for this style of musical romp but the story, songs and dance numbers are not strong enough to sustain such hammy performances.

Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo) and Annie ('Missy' Higgins)

Many of the song lyrics are actually very poignant and wickedly ironic but any sense of their sly and cheeky political commentary is lost in the film’s very trite approach. The presence of Bran Nue Dae’s charms are detectable but they are overshadowed by sight gags such as Father Benedictus taking a dump by the side of the road and jokes involving Magda Szubanski, as a character named Roadhouse Betty, throwing herself at every man she meets (it’s funny because she is a large woman being sexually aggressive).

Bran Nue Dae is not completely without merit and Ernie Dingo is especially a joy to watch as Uncle Tadpole. Unlike most of the rest of the cast, Dingo knows how to have fun with a character without completely overacting. Tom Budge (Ten Empty) also gives a very funny performance as a German hippy and manages to bring a bit of an extra dimension to an otherwise very stereotypical character. Otherwise there is little that appeals about Bran Nue Dae. It is the type of film that you could enjoy if you could just let go and surrender yourself to it but far too many cringe worthy moments constantly prevent you from being able to do so.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2009 wrap up

12 August 2009


The 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival finished last Sunday and I was pleased to end the festival on a high note by seeing Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009), a wonderfully ironic and clever examination of guilt and  culpability in the guise of a whodunit. Before that I caught Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009) a good social-realist film with a terrific central performance from its young lead, newcomer Katie Jarvis.

The day before was a mixed blessing that began with the very enjoyable $9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008), a sort of animated metaphysical Short Cuts that will inevitably be compared to the superior Mary and Max. Unfortunately the much anticiapted closing night film at MIFF was the very cringe-worthy Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009). While containing many strong performances, Ernie Dingo especially, and certainly having its heart in the right place, it is just far too twee. What may have once worked on stage — and Bran Nue Dae does feel like community theatre — hasn’t translated onto screen and it was my biggest disappointment of the festival. Fortunately I skipped the Closing Night party to see Antichrist (2009), the startling new film by Lars von Trier. With its dreamlike combination of hauntingly beautiful and uncanny imagery, and power to actually make me physically recoil for most of the final part of the film, Antichrist was one of my festival highlights along with Love Exposure and the opening night film Balibo.

Otherwise, during the festival I also caught the appropriate titled documentary Outrage (Kirby Dick, 2009), which draws much needed attention to the gross hypocrisy of closeted gay and lesbian politicians who actively legislate and campaign against the homosexual community. I also saw Henry Selick’s wonderful 3D stop motion Coraline (2009) , the quirky but forgettable comedy Pardon My French (Un chat un chat, Sophie Fillières, 2009) and An Education (2009), a highly enjoyable and unconventional coming-of-age film by Danish director Lone Scherfig. Overall, I was very pleased with the films I picked this year.

I didn’t go to any of the retrospective screenings but MIFF did screen both Dogs in Space (Richard Lowenstein, 1986), one of my all time favourite Australian films, and Alphaville (1965), one of my favourite films by Jean-Luc Godard.

Of the many films that I didn’t get around to seeing, I am still kicking myself the hardest for missing Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008). But, I guess you can’t get to see everything!

My 2009 MIFF summary

(Robert Connolly, 2009)

Love Exposure
(Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008)
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums, Claire Denis, 2008)
Paper Soldiers (Bumazhnyy soldat, Aleksei German Ml., 2008)
Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-wook, 2009)
Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009)
Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
Che: Part One (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
Red Riding: 1980 (James Marsh, 2009)
Red Riding: 1974 (Julian Jarrold, 2009)
The 10 Conditions of Love (Jeff Daniels, 2009)
An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009)
Red Riding: 1983 (Anand Tucker, 2009)

The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Michael Haneke, 2009)
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
Che: Part Two (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
Outrage (Kirby Dick, 2009)
Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)
Krabat (Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2008)
$9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008)
The Burrowers (J.T. Petty, 2008)
Like You Know It All (Jal aljido mothamyeonseo, Hong Sang-soo, 2009)

The Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora, Mamoru Oshii, 2008)
The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)
Pardon My French (Un chat un chat, Sophie Fillières, 2009)

Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn (Josh Whiteman, 2009)
Tears for Sale (Carlston za Ognjenku, Uros Stojanovic, 2008)
Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew, 2008)

Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Shedding Light Film Festival

1 March 2002

Interview with Bridget Ikin

Bridget Ikin is an independent film producer who became involved in the Shedding Light Film festival while she was the General Manager at SBS Independent. As part of Adelaide Festival 2002, Shedding Light is a program of 5 Australian feature films and 5 international feature films. Shedding Light also features the Casting Shadows program, which is 5 collections of Indigenous short films, and the F5 program which is a series of forums and master classes with the filmmakers, including Rolf de Heer (Bad Boy Bubby, Dance Me To My Song), and special guests such as Rachel Perkins (Radiance, One Night The Moon) and Scott Hicks (Shine, Hearts In Atlantis).

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