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Rabbit Proof Fence
cast: Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, Kenneth Branagh, and David Gulpilil

director: Philip Noyce

94 minutes (U) 2002
Buena Vista VHS retail
[released 12 May]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Through most of the 20th century, the Australian government was engaged in an astonishing programme of ethnic cleansing. 'Half-caste' aboriginal children, often the result of short relationships between white migrant workers and local women, were forcibly removed from their families and taken to centres thousands of miles from home. Here, forbidden to speak their own tongue, they were 'civilised' through enforced church attendance and training to prepare them for life as domestic servants. Based on the autobiographical book by Doris Pilkington, Rabbit-Proof Fence follows the epic journey of three children trying to get back to their family, with only one thing to guide them - the vast fence that cut Australia in half, keeping out that imported European pest, the rabbit...
   This is such an extraordinary story that it's almost impossible to review objectively. To his credit, Noyce resists all temptation to sentimentalise aboriginal culture, or to demonise the tragically well meaning whites running the programme in the name of progress. The film follows not only the girls' journey, but the efforts of a senior official (played with impressive fair-handedness by Kenneth Branagh) to track them down, and the people the girls encounter along the way - sympathetic bushmen, hostile farmers, a girl already living the life of domestic slavery and sexual exploitation that awaits them. Particularly fascinating is the role of the aboriginal tracker sent to hunt them down; patronised, sympathetic, yet fatally bound to his white employers, who control the fate of his own child, he straddles the two cultures, belonging in neither.
   The rich desolation of inland Australia adds a unique beauty to the film, but the emphasis is always on the captivatingly simple story. Full of triumph and tragedy, this is much more than a political expose; it's a fantastic journey into the determination and strength of the human spirit; a truly unmissable film.
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