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TIFF Review: Sweet Country – “Gorgeous imagery”

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The killing of a war veteran causes an Aboriginal couple to run from the law in the Australian Outback.  

Fatal consequences follow the arrival of a settler named Harry March (Ewen Leslie) who is a drunken, volatile, racist, and abusive war veteran; in an act of self-defence Aboriginal stockman Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) kills the newcomer and flees with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber).  Given what turns out to be an extremely difficult task of trying to capture the fugitives is Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown).

A brutal honesty plays throughout Sweet Country with the title only really applying to the landscape, not the settlers attempting to whip the natural surroundings and native inhabitants to their will.  Not all of the whites are bad such as preacher Fred Smith (Sam Neill) who views Sam and Lizzie as equals; he also provides much-needed humour to what is a damning and grim portrayal of human nature which occurs during a particular campfire scene.  For lovers of Australian cinema, it is a joy to see Bryan Brown and Sam Neill sharing the same scene.  Hamilton Morris and Natassia Gorey-Furber engage the sympathy of the audience members through their quietness and resourcefulness.

Gold tones colour the beautiful yet harsh settings leading to gorgeous imagery.  Shots are inserted into the narrative as visual fragments that serve as indicators of what is to come as well as character reveals.  There is a great use of dissolves to indicate the passage of time as Bryan Brown travels across a salt lake while on horseback.  These elements add to the dreamscape quality that is very much a part of Aboriginal mythology.  Filmmaker Warwick Thornton authentically re-creates 1929 Australia which is far from being a pretty picture of humanity and with a final outcome that rings true with the attitudes of the period.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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