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Ancestral Aboriginal Song, Ten Canoes

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  • Millennium Twain
    In The_Eagle_And_The_Condor, Carlos Pelayo wrote: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=Ten+Canoes http://www.tencanoes.com.au/tencanoes/
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2007
      In The_Eagle_And_The_Condor, "Carlos Pelayo" wrote:



      Ancient Aboriginal Tales, Parallel Across Epochs


      Ancient Aboriginal Tales, Parallel Across Epochs
      Published: June 1, 2007


      "I came from a water hole," declares the wise, slyly humorous
      Storyteller, who narrates "Ten Canoes," Rolf de Heer's mesmerizing
      film of Australian Aboriginal life many centuries ago. As he muses on
      birth, death and reincarnation in tribal mythology, and goes on to
      relate an ancient, rambling fable in which a young man learns
      patience, the cycle of human life is indivisible from the rhythms of
      the natural world.

      Aborigines from centuries past do a death dance in Rolf de Heer's "Ten

      "Ten Canoes," the 10th feature by Mr. de Heer, a Dutch-born Australian
      filmmaker, is a close collaboration between him and the Ramingining
      Aboriginal people, many of whom appear in the movie. The first feature
      made in an Australian indigenous language (there are several different
      dialects), it swept the 2006 Australian Academy Awards. For the
      director it was the next logical step into ethnographic territory
      after his 2002 film, "The Tracker." In its immersion in a primitive
      culture, it recalls Zacharias Kunuk's comparably impressive 2002 film,
      "Atanarjuat" ("The Fast Runner"), the first Canadian Inuit feature.

      The Storyteller, portrayed by the veteran Aborigine actor David
      Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu ("Walkabout," "The Last Wave" and
      "Rabbit-Proof Fence," billed simply as David Gulpilil), is the only
      character who speaks English. Almost everyone else in the 90-minute
      film, set in the Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory, east
      of Darwin, speaks the Ganalbingu language, which is translated into
      colloquial, occasionally racy subtitles.

      Once you become accustomed to the mystical vocabulary describing a
      world without modern science and technology, it amounts to using
      different terms to describe universal experience. Both the
      Storyteller's tale and the movie that contains it transport you out of
      time and leave you wondering if sorcery, religion and psychotherapy
      are different forms of magic.

      Everything begins and ends with the water hole, where people are fish
      who ask to be born and where they eventually return, only to repeat
      the cycle. Evil spirits bring on calamity, and sorcery is the not
      always reliable solution of last resort.

      There is nothing more enthralling than a good yarn, and "Ten Canoes"
      interweaves two versions of the same story, one filmed in black and
      white and set a thousand years ago, and an even older one, filmed in
      color and set in a mythic, prehistoric past.

      The newer narrative begins when the tribal chief, Minygululu (Peter
      Minygululu), leads 10 warriors on a journey deep into the forest to
      gather bark to make canoes, which they paddle into a
      crocodile-infested swamp in search of goose eggs. Making the trip for
      the first time is Minygululu's impatient younger brother, Dayindi
      (Jamie Dayindi Gulpilil Dalaithngu, David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril
      Dalaithngu's son), who vents his frustration at having no wife. He
      pines for the youngest of Minygululu's three wives, though to pursue
      her would be to violate tribal law.

      As their journey continues, Minygululu pacifies Dayindi by regaling
      him with an ancient story that addresses his plight. Its message can
      be boiled down to the phrase "All in good time."

      There is a lot of playful wit in the story. The men laugh and tease
      each other about sexual prowess and endowment, while back in camp the
      women squabble and complain about their husbands.

      The look of these black-and-white scenes was inspired by a photo of 10
      canoeists taken by the anthropologist Donald Thomson, who worked in
      the area in the mid-1930s and lived for months among the original
      inhabitants, the Yolngu. Thomson left behind 4,000 black-and-white
      photographs of the Yolngu culture.

      The ancient story Minygululu tells to his younger brother is a
      loose-jointed fable whose solemnity is continually undercut by joking
      asides and tangents that propose alternative directions the tale might
      take. Its central character, Minygululu's ancient ancestor,
      Ridjimiraril (Crusoe Kurddal), is also a tribal chief who lives with
      three wives, one wise, one jealous and one (the youngest) beautiful.

      Like Dayindi, Ridjimiraril' s younger brother, Yeeralparil (played by
      the same actor), pines for the youngest and prettiest of his older
      brother's wives. Shortly after a stranger visits the tribe,
      Ridjimiraril' s middle wife disappears, and her husband imagines that
      she has been kidnapped by the stranger.

      Months later another visitor reports that the wife has been spotted
      living with the stranger in a distant camp. Ridjimiraril leads a war
      party to retrieve her, but she is not there. Yeeralparil is forbidden
      to join the party because if his older brother is killed, he must take
      over his wives. There is much more to come, including murder and
      revenge and threat of war. But you can see where this is headed as a

      Contemplating a film like "Ten Canoes" or "Atanarjuat," you confront
      inevitable questions about the depiction of primitive peoples in
      feature films and documentaries. Where does detached observation end
      and emotional identification begin? At what point does admiration for
      the noble savage become condescending and sentimental? If the humor of
      "Ten Canoes" largely liberates it from ethnographic solemnity, it
      feels suspiciously contemporary.

      The cinematographer Ian Jones's ravishing vision of an unspoiled
      paradise seduces you as powerfully as John Toll's photography did in
      Terrence Malick's "Thin Red Line." In the Malick film, set on
      Guadalcanal, paradise is despoiled almost from the moment it is
      discovered and soldiers tramp across its sacred ground. In "Ten
      Canoes" that paradise is an eternal past.


      Opens today in Manhattan.

      Directed by Rolf de Heer; written (in various Yolngu Aboriginal
      dialects, with English subtitles) by Mr. de Heer and the people of
      Ramingining; director of photography, Ian Jones; edited by Tania
      Nehme; traditional music performed by Richard Birrinbirrin, Peter
      Minygululu, Billy Black, John Nudumul and Mark Muruwirri; produced by
      Mr. de Heer and Julie Ryan; released by Palm Pictures. At the Cinema
      Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 90
      minutes. This film is not rated.

      WITH: Crusoe Kurddal (Ridjimiraril) , Jamie Dayindi Gulpilil
      Dalaithngu (Dayindi/Yeeralpari l), Richard Birrinbirrin (Birrinbirrin)
      , Peter Minygululu (Minygululu) , Frances Djulibing (Nowalingu) and
      David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (the Storyteller) .

      Speaking in Native Tongues

      June 1, 2007

      An Aboriginal fable that gently unwinds for a hypnotic
      hour-and-a-half, the magic-infused "Ten Canoes" takes the notion of
      narrative on a walkabout. It's a yarn-within- a-yarn and then some,
      immersed in a native tongue and tone that saturates the viewer in
      uncut ethnographic funk. The film is awash in folksy lyricism and
      rough humor, its cultural codes seeping into the consciousness like
      the brackish swamp water its wooden vessels float through.

      Those canoes have been dutifully fashioned from tree bark as members
      of a Yolngu tribe in the Northern Territory of Australia head out on
      their annual hunt for goose eggs. It is, a puckish narrator (the
      Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil) intones, before a chortle, a time
      "long, long ago in a place far, far away": a thousand years, at least,
      before Westerners materialized on the rugged landscape. The men's
      journey is long and physically taxing. It is also dangerous: The
      marshy terrain is populated by alligators, which require the hunters
      to build sleeping platforms in thickets of trees. To entertain
      themselves as they mush and paddle, they tell stories � really,
      really, really long stories.

      The story Australian director Rolf de Heer has chosen to recast, with
      English voice-overs and subtitles for Ganalbingu � a language whose
      rhythms have a captivating vibrancy � is a revenge drama meant to
      teach about the perils of misjudgment. "Be careful what you wish for"
      is its message. An elder, Minygululu, who has three wives, intends to
      cool the ardor of the young bachelor, Dayindi (Jamie Gulpilil, the
      narrator's son, who resembles an Aborginal Andre Benjamin). The kid
      has an eye on Minygululu's third and most beautiful wife. So the elder
      begins telling a story from a time before time, about a village
      leader, his three wives, his lustful baby brother � and a mysterious

      As the saga unfolds, Mr. de Heer's conceptual gifts make the
      exposition a constant delight and surprise. He uses the same Aborginal
      cast of nonactors for both the film's present and past, doubling the
      characters in a sense, shooting the former in stark black-and-white
      and the latter in lush color. Both are sumptuously filmed by
      cinematographer Ian Jones, who evokes a celebrated photographic series
      made in 1937 by the Australian anthropologist Donald Thomson. The
      camera's movements are deliberately mapped. Slow tracking shots and
      stationary frames observe the storytelling tribesmen, while the
      flashbacks are captured by a lens in fluid motion, snaking in and
      around the action, almost from the stalker's perspective in a 1970s
      horror film.

      Perhaps emulating the Aborginal sense of time as a kind of boundless
      continuum, as well as spiritual beliefs in the migration of ancestral
      souls, the film's separate halves continually dissolve into and out of
      each other. This tactic might seem to make a dense and complex
      enterprise even more so, but it actually makes it easier to assimilate
      the Yolngu arcana.

      The rich performances that Mr. de Heer elicits from his
      non-professional cast (who determined their own roles based on the
      strict lineage rules of the Yolngu: The kinship relationships between
      two actors in the film had to be the same as the relationships between
      the characters they were playing) also contribute mightily to the
      film's enveloping drama. Often with little more than a still shot and
      crisp editing, the director can convey the desired effect, while the
      story gradually loops backward and forward.

      Since so much of "Ten Canoes" abides in the small details and intimate
      rhythms of their revelation, it's shameful to outline more than the
      basics. In the cautionary tale, the village leader, Ridjimiraril, gets
      spooked by a stranger who briefly visits his people, and may have cast
      a spell on him � which seems to be as easy as finding some carelessly
      deposited excrement in the woods and setting it on fire. When one of
      Ridjimiraril' s three wives disappears, everyone suspects this unknown
      sorcerer, but it's only later when the men gather their spears to
      track him down, with tragic results. Through it all, the longing of
      Yeeralparil, the troubled leader's little brother, for his youngest
      wife, is played like a chorus � and a comic rejoinder.

      The great beauty of "Ten Canoes" is not only photographic and
      linguistic. The film also abides in its potent display of ritual and
      communal ethics, filtered through a refreshing commitment to
      presenting the real deal. A good story must be told properly, the
      narrator insists, and "Ten Canoes" does just that.

      Mel Gibson, take note.
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