Dec. 24, 2002, 4:58PM|
'Rabbit-Proof Fence' sheds light on Australia's national scandal
By GLENN WHIPP
Rabbit-Proof Fence opens with every parent's nightmare.
Three children are playing near their home when a man gets out of a car and tries to abduct them. The girls run for their mother, the anguished woman kicks and screams and pleads, but to no avail. The car -- and the children -- are gone.
Molly (Evelyn Sampi), from right, Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monagan) use a transcontinental fence as a guide to find their way home in Rabbit-Proof Fence.. That this was perfectly legal in Australia through much of the 20th century is what Phillip Noyce's searing film is all about. The movie is reminiscent of the early work of Australian directors like Peter Weir, Fred Schepesi, Bruce Beresford and, yes, Noyce himself. These are movies that unflinchingly examined the dark, sad history of Australia's Aborigines. The horrible power of Rabbit-Proof Fence comes from its depiction of the crimes that governments will commit in the name of good intentions.
At the turn of the 20th century, A.O. Neville, chief protector of the Aborigines, ordered government-sanctioned abductions of all mixed-raced Aborigines so they could be raised as servants. The thinking went that after a couple of more generations of Aborigines marrying whites, the aboriginal blood would be gone, thus ending the race problem in Australia: genocide by assimilation.
Rabbit-Proof Fence follows the true story of three aboriginal girls, 14-year-old Molly (Everlyn Sampi), younger sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and their cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan), as they escape their "education camp" and attempt to walk the 1,500 miles back home. The film takes its title from a transcontinental fence that the girls use as their guide on their journey, a fence built by itinerant white workers who fathered most of the mixed-raced Aborigines.
The girls' odyssey is interrupted by scenes in which we see Neville (Kenneth Branagh) plotting their capture, and the constant cutting back and forth takes something away from the story's power. Still, if Noyce never captures anything as fiercely powerful as that opening abduction scene, he does give us the cinematography of Christopher Doyle, who turns the Australian desert into an epic, otherworldly landscape.
Doyle, who also teamed with Noyce on the hauntingly beautiful The Quiet American, is the cinematographer of the year, a remarkable artist who captures places with an extraordinary eye for detail and texture. Marry those unforgettable visuals with this amazing true story, and you've got a truly affecting movie that may well move you to tears.