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Read: The bitter taste in the Sweet Country

It is never easy to watch depictions of the colonial era because they present to us a very uncomfortable truth about the way indigenous peoples were treated by the colonising elite.

Sweet Country is just such a movie. Set in Australia’s Northern Territory in the 1920s, it is based on the true story of an Aboriginal farmer (Sam played by Hamilton Morris) who kills a white war veteran in self-defence.

The film highlights the dirty side of Australian history, and a time when aboriginals were still treated as sub human and if they weren’t being killed, they were used as slaves. As this story shows, some white folk treated them with dignity, but most didn’t and when it came to a question of the law, an aboriginal would have little hope of true justice.

Director Warwick Thornton has weaved an interesting tale that feels almost as raw as the landscape it inhabits. There is very little music or gimmicky techniques, the sets are as spartan and dust-filled as the areas they inhabit and all the people are struggling to eke out a living in these parched lands.

At first the film is maddeningly slow, but this really is its strength as we get to know these people really well. I suspect every viewer’s loyalty will be with the hard done by Sam, but it is possible to see that all the characters in this film are carrying burdens of one type or another.

While all the cast perform well, it is the Aborigine actors (and their characters) who stand out in this film. Perhaps it is because they have less dialogue, but manage to communicate so brilliantly with their expressions. In this Hamilton Morris is superb and brings dignity to a man who is treated so appallingly.

What is interesting about this film is what it shows about the complexity of human dynamics. A good example is that of another Aboriginal character called Archie (Gibson John). He helps track down Sam, and throughout the film is obsequious to his white masters to a humiliating degree. One might watch this and consider him a traitor to his own people and his own dignity, but as the film adroitly shows, who can blame him?  His culture and people have been decimated by white Australia and he has been brought up since he was a boy to be a servant and do as he’s told. In a land where Aboriginal people were hunted and killed for sport, only compliance can guarantee his safety.

This may seem like a bleak film, but it is not. There are moments of great sadness and many moments where you will feel angry but it also shows that there are many in society who want to do the right thing.

This is a film that you really ought to see to remind yourself that history has defined our present, and that prejudice can last well into the future.

In cinemas 12th April 2018

Sweet Country

110 Minutes

Starring:  Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Hamilton Morris

Directed by:   Warwick Thornton



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