Rabbit Proof Fence
review by Carrie Gorringe, 20 September 2002

27th Toronto International Film Festival

After a decade of working in Hollywood, most notably as Harrison Ford's favorite action-film director (Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games), Phillip Noyce has returned to his Australian roots in Rabbit-Proof Fence.  Working from Doris Pilkington's autobiography, Noyce and screenwriter Christine Olsen crafts a bittersweet tale of miraculous resilience in the face of state-sanctioned racism. 

In 1931, the Australian government passed the Aboriginal Act, a law which allowed for the removal of so-called "half-caste" children from their aboriginal families in the hope that their "inferior" (read:  black) bloodlines could be, in the words of a fanatical official named Neville (Kenneth Branagh), "bred out" of them.  Placed in grim orphanages in the outback, the children were subjected to periodic "inspections" to determine which of any of the occupants had skin deemed "white enough" to allow them to be taken and trained for more than menial labor (the law was not repealed until 1970, long after eugenics had been scientifically discredited) Those foolish enough to try escaping are subjected to horrible punishment.  However, fourteen-year-old Molly Craig (Everlyn Sampi) is resolute in her desire to return home.  Gathering up her sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and their cousin, Gracie Fields (Laura Monaghan), Molly tries to make her way home despite incredible odds.  Not only must they travel over 1500 miles- on foot - but they will also be pursued by Moodoo (David Gulpilil), an Aboriginal who is forced to use his innate gift for tracking by a government that holds his own child hostage.  Their only guidepost in the desolate outback is the rabbit-proof fence erected by the government to separate the farms from the rabbits (and the "irremediable" Aboriginals from those who can be "saved").  Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Neville knows exactly where they need to go to reach their home.  The result is an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse as the girls, attempting to stay several steps ahead of Neville's men, seek help along the way, not knowing whom they can trust.

Noyce and his team have created a quiet masterpiece that moves along as quietly and as resolutely as the girls themselves.  Cinematographer Christopher Doyle bathes the screen in pastels, their wanness conveying the deceptive beauty of the outback, one that can be abruptly broken in an instant by the intrusion of the dark cars and uniforms of officialdom.  Peter Gabriel's score unobtrusively confers an appropriately eerie and ominous, yet faintly hopeful, edge upon the proceedings. The powerful performances by Sampi, Sansbury and Monaghan aren't laden with mock-heroics, and necessarily so (the film's coda makes it clear that there is no clean conclusion to the girls' story.  Fence is the necessary examination of one of Australia's darker legal policies.


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Directed by:
Phillip Noyce

Starring:
Everlyn Sampi
Tianna Sansbury
Laura Monaghan
David Gulpilil
Ningali Lawford
Myarn Lawford
Deborah Mailman
Jason Clarke
Kenneth Branagh
Natasha Wanganeen
Garry McDonald

Written by:
Christine Olsen

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.

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