Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

Maybe not the definitive story of the Stolen Generation, but if it heightens awareness of this sorry episode in Australia's history then it will have served a purpose.

For those who possess a broad understanding of events, this movie - based on fact - will not provide any profound enlightenment, though Rabbit-Proof Fence does provide a good illustration of the institutionalised removal of aboriginal children from their families, supposedly (in the eyes of a succession of Australian national and state governments) for their own benefit. The story, of two aboriginal girls escape from their new "home", following the path of the lengthy rabbit fence across the outback to return to their natural family, is a powerful one.

A most interesting performance in the film is that of Kenneth Branagh as the state commissioner in charge of aboriginals - a kindly, paternal authoritarian figure who obviously genuinely believed in his work, and believed he was doing good for aboriginal society. This, despite the fact that he was essentially carrying out of a form of ethnic cleansing. Branagh is very good in this role, and it is hard to go "Boo Hiss" even though the commissioner's job is so despicable.

Philip Noyce returned to Australia specifically to direct Rabbit-Proof Fence, and has done a commendable job, even though I don't consider this among his best work ("Newsfront" will be hard to dislodge for that spot, I believe). Peter Gabriel was a curious choice to do the musical score. He's done well, but I can't help being a little parochial (and Australian music is something I tend to get very parochial about) and wondering if an Australian couldn't have done it instead. Nonetheless, consider Gabriel's support for global causes over the years and it's hard to disapprove of his participation.

Rabbit-Proof Fence is a valuable reminder of the events that created the Stolen Generation, and it is to be hoped that it does raise awareness internationally. But we shouldn't think that Australia's human rights injustices are a thing of the past - one only needs to look at our present government's disgraceful attitude towards refugees as evidence of this.

My IMDb vote: 7 (out of 10). Seen at the Dendy, Newtown on April 14, 2002.

An awards update: "Rabbit-Proof Fence" was named Best Picture at the 2002 AFI Awards in Sydney last night (December 7). The film took two other awards, one for best sound, and one for Peter Gabriel for best music score.

The other three nominated best pictures were "Australian Rules", "Beneath Clouds" and "The Tracker" - unfortunately I have seen none of these to date, so can't give any comparisons. Ivan Sen was named best director for "Beneath Clouds", beating Phillip Noyce among others. The only acting nomination for Rabbit-Proof Fence went to David Gulpilil in a supporting role as the police tracker. Gulpilil did, however, pick up the award for best lead actor in "The Tracker".