Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009): Australia

Reviewed by Nicholas Berquist.  Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Rachel Perkins’ adaptation of Bran Nue Dae won’t win any awards for its artistic nature or spellbinding camera work, mainly because there is none.  Instead, this film grabs us and takes us on a wild, spontaneous, and hilarious ride through Western Australia.

It starts off in a church gearing the audience up for a main theme of the film.  Willie, our protagonist, is falling in love with Rosie, a cute aborigine girl.  Rosie likes Willie but doesn’t like that he’s always listening to his mom and she definitely doesn’t like waiting around while he’s away at boarding school.  Willie’s zealous, overbearing mother sends him to the city to learn to be a priest.  This year, Willie arrives at the school unsure if this is what he really wants.  A priest can’t marry Rosie.  Unfortunately, upon his arrival Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush) makes Willie a prefect putting him in charge of other students.  Willie is cracking under the pressure and can’t stop having sexual thoughts about Rosie.  After Father Benedictus catches Willie and the boys stealing from the kitchens he makes several racial remarks about the aborigines.  Not only does this bring about the delightful, “Nothing I Would Rather Be…” musical number, it also forces Willie to flee the school.  He decides he would rather be chasing after his girl Rosie and living away their lives in peaceful Broome.

First things first: Geoffrey Rush is outstanding in this film.  His German accent is spot on.  Every time he was on the screen the audience, myself included, was giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls (no offense to any schoolgirls in attendance).  This isn’t necessarily because Rush’s lines were funny or he looked funny.  It was more because he perfected the tone of this film through his actions.  We knew this film had a quirky, happy nature and Rush really encapsulates that.  Portraying an old priest following a young boy in a musical comedy isn’t exactly your everyday role, but Rush is more than up to the task.

Unlike some films that try to capture real life, Bran Nue Dae constantly is reminding the audience that it is watching fiction.  Singing, dancing, and hitching rides from European hippies aren’t things that happen every day.  Also, the corny sound effects add to the goofy tone of the film.

Despite all of that there is a stark and serious message in this film.  Willie is tired of being pushed and pulled in all directions.  Really, all he wants is to be who he is.  On an even greater stage it says let people be who they are.  Why should we invade and conquer especially in the name of religion?  As long as their culture does no harm why do we feel the need to “educate the uncivilized”?  Perkins uses the song, “Nothing I Would Rather Be…” to highlight this message.  Yes, the lyrics are funny and the song has a light melody, but if you really listen to what they’re saying you realize this film is all about being who you are.

Perkins deserves a lot of credit for converting a stage musical into a wonderful film.  Beneath all the sarcasm and irony she really knows what she is doing and should be commended.  Go see this film in support of aborigines and their culture.

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