An ethnographic shaggy-dog story set and filmed in Australian swamp. Centred around an expedition by canoe to gather goose eggs, the film unfolds as village elder Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) discovers that his youngest wife is much desired by his callow younger brother Dayindi (Jamie Gulpilil). As the expedition proceeds, Minygululu gradually relates a cautionary fable about Ridjimiraril (Crusoe Kurddal) - a proud warrior who like the narrator (David Gulpilil) has three wives and an envious younger brother (also played by Jamie Gulpilil) and whose life is thrown into turmoil when one of his wives disappears mysteriously after a stranger appears in the area.
An art-house film filled with more humour and skilled acting than most Hollywood blockbusters, Ten Canoes is a wry story within a story. The tone of the film is set when narrator David Gulpilil (Crocodile Dundee) says, "Once upon a time in a land far, far away...." He stops himself with a warm, hearty chuckle and adds, "I'm only joking." Director Rolf de Heer does a fine job with his cast of novice actors, who depict a life most moviegoers are unfamiliar with. Set in Australia's far northern Arnhem Land, the film--which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival--tells the tale of friendship, deception, and forbidden love. Ten tribesmen venture on a trip where they will build canoes, gather food, and gossip about their sexual prowess and their wives. During the trip, Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) regales his younger brother Dayindi (played by David Gulpilil's son, Jamie Gulpilil) with stories of a man who lusts after his older sibling's wife. It is giving nothing away to reveal that Dayindi has a crush on Minygululu's youngest bride. Handled differently, the film could've been saddled with the ick factor of siblings chasing after the same young woman. But the way de Heer presents it, it is a parable that distinguishes between right and wrong, in an entertaining and non-judgmental way. Cinematographer Ian Jones is to be commended for his amazing work. He frames the shots in a superb fashion and showcases the raw beauty of the land--and the people--that time has forgotten. --Jae-Ha Kim
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