RABBIT-PROOF FENCE (2002) / *** 1/2
Directed by Phillip Noyce. Screenplay by Christine Olsen, based on the book by Doris Pilkington. Starring Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated PG by the MFCB. Reviewed on March 18th, 2003.
By SHANNON PATRICK SULLIVAN
Synopsis: In the early twentieth century, Australia established a policy whereby children of white fathers and aboriginal mothers were removed from their families and taken to special schools. Three such children were Molly Craig (Sampi), her sister Daisy (Sansbury) and her cousin Gracie (Monaghan). Transported hundreds of miles from their home and placed under the authority of government official A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), the girls became determined to return to their mother -- even if it meant crossing the Australian desert by foot.
Review: The naive will look upon the events of "Rabbit-Proof Fence" as relics of a bygone age. The final set of captions puts the lie to this assumption: the removal of Australian aborigines of mixed racial parentage continued until the 1970s, little more than a generation ago. Perhaps more importantly, "Fence" keenly illustrates the assumptions made by many bigots, both aggressive and passive: that people whose ancestry is not white are somehow inferior human beings. And it puts the lie to this too, depicting a journey undertaken by three bright, resourceful young girls who accomplished a feat that few people -- white, black or otherwise -- would dare undertake. Noyce does a splendid job of presenting the girls' story in a manner which avoids sentimentality. This is no afterschool special, but rather a tale of tortuous survival in which respite is rare and brief, and common sense dictates that any success must be short-lived. Sampi, Sansbury and Monaghan give good, natural performances as the girls, rising to the level of realism demanded by the production. Also noteworthy is Branagh, whose measured portrayal of Neville paints him clearly as a man who has so completely bought into his own theories of socio-cultural evolution that he is clueless to the evils he's perpetrating. "Fence" is a stirring piece of cautionary filmmaking.
Copyright © 2003 Shannon Patrick Sullivan. Archived at The Popcorn Gallery, http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/movies.html
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