Ten Canoes

4 out of 5 stars
ABORIGINAL GANGSTA An elder keeps the ancient ways alive.
ABORIGINAL GANGSTA An elder keeps the ancient ways alive.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away,” a narrator solemnly intones over helicopter shots of Australia’s lush, rural marshes. Such an opening usually signals that big-country (or, this being Down Under, bush-country) mythmaking and self-important majesty lay just around the corner. Before you can settle in, however, our friendly tour guide starts loudly cackling. “Nah, I’m only joking,” he says. “This isn’t that kind of story.”

It isn’t indeed, and what director Rolf de Heer (The Tracker) offers up instead is a far chewier concoction: an aboriginal Apocalypto, only kinder, gentler and more likely to veer into the playful metaliterary territory of Calvino than indulge in Mad Mel’s brutal bombast. Voiced by Walkabout’s David Gulpilil, the storyteller revels in being completely unreliable, interrupting a story about his own birth to abruptly begin a tale of his ancestor (played by the actor’s son, Jamie Gulpilil) lusting after his sister-in-law. Soon, that character’s elder brother (Kurddal) relays an old folkloric legend involving the magic properties of feces, a missing wife and an enemy tribe. De Heer’s indigenous action-comedy relies on its own puckishness a few times too many, but its tribute to the power of a well-spun yarn couldn’t be more effective. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.) — David Fear



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