Tall tales celebrate an ancient and dignified culture

PUBLISHED: 15:40 08 June 2007 | UPDATED: 14:33 07 September 2010

Ten Canoes (15) Director Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr. Starring David Gulpilil, Crusoe Kurddal, Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin, Peter Djigirr Subtitles. 90 mins Three stars A story like you ve never heard before is promised to us by the unseen na

Ten Canoes (15) Director Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr.

Starring David Gulpilil, Crusoe Kurddal, Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin, Peter Djigirr Subtitles. 90 mins

Three stars

'A story like you've never heard before"

is promised to us by the unseen narrator at the start of the film and I think he safely delivers on that bold claim, mostly because it's less a story rather a series of playful digressions.

This may not be the first entirely Aboriginal film to be released in this country but if it isn't, it's part of a very select band. The scenery of the Arafura swamp in northern Australia makes for a startling primordial backdrop. This is a world and a way of life far from anything we know. But once inside, there's a matter-of-factness about the project that wards off the threat of dull worthiness.

The English language voiceover at the start leads us gently into the film. However, after that we're into a black and white framing story set a thousand years in the past about a group of 10 men going out to harvest bark.

One of the unmarried youngsters in the group has designs on an older man's third wife and,

from there, we are off into another story, shot in colour, told to the younger man by the older man

in an effort to keep him

in line.

The project was initiated by David Gulpilil, who

has been the leading Aboriginal actor since he appeared alongside Jenny Agutter in Walkabout in the early 70s. Though unspecified "complex reasons," prevented him

co-directing with de

Heer, he was still able to contribute the narration. And it's almost like a salesman's patter, trying to drum up interest in what he has to offer.

I think he's on the level

- but I was never entirely sure. Ten Canoes certainly takes you for a ride, giving you tall tales that celebrate an ancient and dignified culture with japes and

low humour.

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