I’ve wanted to see Ten Canoes for a very long time, so I was pleased when Dan Slevin let it be known that the film was showing at the Lighthouse in Petone.

I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Ten Canoes is a didactic tale given by an old Aboriginal man to a young man while they travel with a mob of men somewhere in Northern Australia. It’s the goose hunting season, and while they’re making bark canoes someone tells the old man that the young man, who is his younger brother, covets the old guys wife.

The rest of the film is taken up with the tale of one of the men’s ancestors, who found himself in a similar situation way back near the beginning of time. Ten Canoes is a real charmer from this point on, with the tale reaching into all aspects of the Aboriginal peoples lives, from laws on sanitation, to respect for strangers, to the dangers of jealousy and obsession.

I think what I found most compelling was that there was no pretension in the presentation of the characters lives. No veiled judgement about the ‘necessity’ to find the boons of Western civilisation, and a sweetness in the presentation of the characters.

Often these types of semi-anthropological films (or documentaries) seem to want to dumb down or explain for audiences, but Ten Canoes simply lays open the lives of a mob of Aboriginal people, and in doing so reinforces their basic humanity. I say this because all too often Australian films try too hard to capture the essence of what Aboriginality is, or is supposed to be. Or, they try too hard to work their Aboriginal characters into a mold understandable to Western audiences. In other words, they’re patronising.

Ten Canoes avoids all that, and just lays open a story of a group of people living and doing what people do. As I say, it is didactic, but that only gives greater depth to the relationship between the older and younger man, and greater context to the cultural milieu in which they’re acting.

A must see.

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