Charlie’s Country

DRAMA; 1hr 48min (Yolngu Matha with subtitles, English)

STARRING: David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, Luke Ford

His country: Gulpilil

Grizzled of beard and liquid-eyed, David Gulpilil’s face is a tracery of hard living and a startling contrast to his sinewy, teenage-sized frame. Collaborating again with his old friend, filmmaker Rolf de Heer (The Tracker, Ten Canoes), Gulpilil brings his expressive presence to marginalised Charlie, a man for whom contrast is a way of life. Charlie’s heart lies with his land, in the Northern Territory’s Ramingining. But his feet share the same turf as controlling white enforcers, including police officer Luke (Ford), who impounds his gun and spear. Fed up, Charlie “borrows” a police car and goes bush — his spiritual home until he’s rained out.


De Heer and Gulpilil’s screenplay eases into Charlie’s circular journey: the sickness that overwhelms him, his godsend rescue by Black Pete (Djigirr), the alien hospital that patches him up, the boozy lull with Darwin’s “long grassers” in their limbo between the city and the wild, the police intervention that lands him in prison and the change of heart that sees him back home, teaching kids traditional dance. This isn’t a passage through which to rush — and besides, Gulpilil says more with contemplative silence than carbonated dialogue ever could.