|Dec 25, 2002
A memorable journey along 'Fence'BY DANIEL NEMAN
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Running time: 1:22. Rated PG.
We may as well say this at the top: Yes, "Rabbit-Proof Fence" is a silly title.
It's kind of catchy, though, and it's certainly memorable - a memorable title for a memorable movie.
"Rabbit-Proof Fence" wins the elusive movie trifecta - it's socially relevant, inspirational and triumphant all at the same time. It is an amazing story about some amazing children overcom ing adversity in a bid to remain free. In some respects, it is an all-American movie. It happens to be Australian, though, based on a shameful time in that country's history.
For far longer than one might expect, Australia sought to separate its children of mixed birth from their parents. Children with one Aboriginal parent and one white were forcibly removed in hope that they could be taught some measure of civilization. Eventually, it was thought, the Aboriginal blood could be bred out of their children or their children's children, who would then be safely white.
An intermediate step on the way was a re-education camp for the youngsters, teaching them to interact properly with what were thought of as their white superiors. It is to this camp that three young girls are taken in 1931, far from their home in the distant and dusty outpost of Jigalong. In the camp, they are more or less treated like prisoners by the whites who think they are doing them a great service.
The three girls run away, led by the oldest, Molly, who is just 14. Molly is clever enough to escape just before a rainstorm, which will make it hard for the camp's intrepid tracker to follow them. The rest of the movie follows three little girls in the vast outback of Australia, trying to avoid capture while their way home.
The girls are blessed with an unerring sense of direction and a vital piece of information: Jigalong lies along the rabbit-proof fence that stretches 1,500 miles across the north of Australia. The longest fence in the world, it keeps the rabbits on one side from eating the crops on the other.
The fence may be used metaphorically here, representing the white society trying to keep the Aborigines away. But it is also a literal way for the girls to try to find their way home, hundreds of torturous miles away.
The remarkably photogenic and subtly expressive Everlyn Sampi stars as Molly; quick, smart, decisive and strong. With single-minded fervor, she guides her sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and friend Gracie (Laura Monaghan) through their perilous, incredible journey.
The man responsible for their plight is the regional director of Aboriginal affairs, a Mr. Neville, who is referred to by the Aborigines as Mr. Devil. Kenneth Branagh is chillingly convincing as Neville, playing him as an insidious man who truly believes in his heart that he is doing the right thing.
Philip Noyce directs, which is itself a pleasant surprise. Noyce has made a handful of successful, slick pictures, such as "Dead Calm," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger." But he is equally known for such horrendous flops as "Sliver" and "The Saint."
But neither side of his past record prepares you for the quietly moving film that is "Rabbit-Proof Fence," with its minimal dialogue and its understanding of children. Noyce uses the starkly beautiful outback as a separate character, and the ever-changing light as a running commentary on the conditions the girls face.
Noyce saves his best for last. The final piece of film we see before the credits is simply, grandly overwhelming. It brings this fascinating movie utterly, heartbreakingly, to life.
Contact Daniel Neman at (804) 649-6408 or email@example.com
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