banner image

:: Bran Nue Dae

It's been a while since we'd seen a film by Aboriginal Australian filmmaker Rachel Perkins. Bran Nue Dae, which attracted much acclaim at the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival, is a road trip musical set in 1969. It began as a collection of songs written in the early 1980s by composer, musician and playwright Jimmy Chi. Chi later used these songs to create the original stage musical Bran Nue Dae. Many of the song lyrics are actually very poignant and ironic but any sense of cheeky political commentary would be lost upon the approach and the visuals on show.

Aboriginal teenager Willie (Rocky McKenzie) heads off on a journey of self-discovery. The teenager’s mother wants him to study in Perth and become a Catholic priest. After an act of defiance, the religious mission to which he'd been sent for an education punishes him. Fearing repercussions, he flees the scene toward the tranquility of the coastal town of Broome - and the journey provides him with the experiences and maturity necessary for him to return.

Shy Willie falls in love with local singer Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), an aspiring singer who has also caught the eye of local band leader Lester (Dan Sultan). Along the way Willie teams up with a homeless Indigenous elder named Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo). Ernie is a joy to watch as Uncle Tadpole. Unlike most of the rest of the cast, Dingo knows how to have fun with a character without completely overacting. Geoffrey Rush plays Father Benedictus a larger than life character, and leader of the mission, whose past catches up with him, while Tom Budge and Missy Higgins make a great pair of hippie travellers, with a big surprise awaiting them at the end of the road. Along the way we also run into Magda Szubanski and Deborah Mailman in good performances as well.

The countryside is gorgeous and this film is truly a showcase of the best Aboriginal talent amongst actors, dancers and singers. The film carries much self-belief and great energy, yet it does raise serious indigenous issues - deaths in police custody and alcoholism - it never becomes inaccessible to the audience. Bran Nue Dae is, at the very least, a crowd-pleasing film and is a fine piece of Australian cinematic work.