Rabbit Proof Fence

foreign films

Rabbit Proof Fence
Made in: Australia
Language: English, Martu Wangka (indigenous aboriginal language)
Directed by: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, David Gulpilil
With music by: Peter Gabriel
Year: 2002

Synopsis: The year is 1931. 14 year-old Molly (Everlyn Sampi), her younger sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury), and little cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan) are three mixed-race aboriginal girls living in Jigalong, an aboriginal community in Western Australia.

The girls are forcibly removed from their mother and grandmother under a controversial policy enacted by A.O. Neville (played by Kenneth Branagh), who was appointed as Australia's Chief Protector of Aborigines in 1915.

The policy stated that mixed race aboriginal children, defined as "half-castes" during this time period, were to be removed from their families and assimilated into the predominantly white society. Neville saw this as a way of "saving" aboriginal people, since the increasing number of white settlements displaced large numbers of natives, leaving them impoverished and isolated.

Molly, Daisy, and Gracie are taken to an orphanage north of Perth, in a native settlement called Moore River. There, the children are educated and trained to assimilate into mainstream Australian culture.

Finding the place to be more like a prison, the children escape one morning and decide to make the 1500 mile journey back to Jigalong on foot. They are guided by the rabbit proof fence, an incredibly long fence that runs through that region of Australia and happens to pass right through their home community.

While trying to stay ahead of an expert aboriginal tracker (David Gulpilil), Molly uses all her knowledge of wilderness survival and resourcefulness to make sure that she and the younger children make it back without getting caught.

The Good: Based on a true story, Rabbit Proof Fence is an inspirational story about human will and endurance. Without bleeding-heart sentimentality or melodrama, the film focuses on the bravery of the children and how their simple desire to be home drives them to complete a 9-week trek that could have easily killed them.

The cinematography is great, and captures the beauty and vastness of the western Australian outback. The venerable Kenneth Branagh turns out a highly commendable performance as the compassionate but misguided A.O. Neville.

Although not portrayed as a 2-dimensional character, director Phillip Noyce presents the devastating consequences of his "good intentions" in a realistic fashion, proper historical context, and doesn't hit the viewer over the head with an overdose of white guilt.

The Bad: As with many "based on a true story" movies, Rabbit Proof Fence is not without its controversies. The film is based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara (Molly's daughter), and many have debated about several elements of the movie, from the accuracy of specific details during girls' journey to the way main characters were portrayed.

As a film, my only beef is that it was hard to tell exactly how long it took the children to complete specific parts of their journey. For instance, it would seem like they'd been on the lam for a few days, when in fact, we're told that an entire month had passed.

Who would like this film: This movie's for you if you're already a fan of foreign films, and have an interest in the lives of Australian aborigines and culture. Although the theme of human spirit in the face of adversity is universal, knowledge of Australian history during this time would probably make the film more interesting.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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