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David Gulpilil, centre, is Charlie, a ‘blackfella’ chafing at life in the blithely oppressive white world before retreating to the bush to recapture an old way of life.

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
Rolf de Heer, David Gulpilil
Directed by
Rolf de Heer
Starring
David Gulpilil
Country
France
Language
English

At an Australian hospital, a white doctor addresses an Aborigine simply as "Charlie," as he has trouble pronouncing "foreign names."

And isn't that a joke, and isn't that appalling – the original dispossessed, the indigenous displaced.

It gets to the heart of Charlie's Country, an unfortunate story of societal tensions in modern Australia, told with bittersweet humour, graceful sentimentality and downcast charm by Dutch-Australian director Rolf de Heer and the co-writer and in-every-scene star David Gulpilil.

Story continues below advertisement

Gulpilil is Charlie, a "blackfella" chafing at life in the blithely oppressive white world. When he retreats to the bush to recapture an old way of life, he is beaten (by malnutrition and relentless rain) back into the city, and, eventually, to jail.

He fondly recalls dancing as a boy for the Queen of England. Where did it all go so wrong?

The upright art-houser is told in English and Yolngu, with English subtitles, but the message would be clear without any dialogue: Australia is no country for old Aborigine.

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