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John Sebastian Pilakui,
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An Indonesian fishing boat abandons a group of Iraqi and Cambodian men on a remote part of the Western Australian coast. Told there is a bus over the dunes, the men are abandoned to a desert the size of Poland. While most are quickly rounded up, three men with little in common but their history of misfortune elude capture and begin an epic but confused journey drawn on by their hopes amplified by the empty desert. Pursued by an army reservist unit more concerned with playing ball sports and music, our three protagonists wander deeper into trouble, searching desperately among the harsh beauty of the Pilbara for evidence of a western, liberal democracy. Or the promised bus. Written by
This is a (non-romantic) comedy, based on several true life stories. An Indonesian fishing boat-full of unauthorized male migrants from Iraq and Cambodia is put ashore by the villainous captain on the north-western coast of Western Australia. The migrants are told all they have to do is climb up from the beach to a road from where they can catch a bus to Perth. What the captain fails to tell them that Perth is 2000 km away and the nearest bus stop (of the "Lucky Miles" bus company) is in Broome, 300 km away. Discovering the fraud, the party breaks up. Boat people are no novelty in these parts and most of them are soon picked up by the authorities, but three of them, Arun, a Cambodian who is trying to get to his Australian father in Perth, Yousif an Iraqi engineer who has lost everything at home and Ramelan, a member of the fishing boat's crew get themselves lost in the desert.
They are, however, not alone. A border patrol operated by Army reservists is on their trail, but the pursuit would have to be described as leisurely. One of the reservists, an Aboriginal, is quite at home in the bush and his superior tracking skills means his colleagues don't have to put themselves out very much. It is pleasant to record that the Army guys are actually concerned about the fate of their quarry. The lost trio on the other hand have nothing in common except that they are lost together and much of the comedy arises from their incompatibilities. They have to co-operate to survive, but it's a close-run thing.
Outback South Australia stood in for the northwest of WA, but it is still a tough landscape. The film-makers very sensibly shot on location between June and August, but you can still sense the heat. I'd like to make this film compulsory viewing for those of our politicians and officials who equate boat people as criminals. In the year in which this film was set, 1990, asylum-seekers were not automatically locked up. The future of the people in this film was quite bright. Now, of course they would be removed from the mainland, and dumped in our rented Pacific hell-hole, Nauru until we can persuade some other country (New Zealand perhaps) to take them.
Immigration politics aside, the central characters are well realized and we become involved in their fate. Some well-known names in Australian acting pop up in small roles, but the main roles are taken by relative newcomers. Kenneth Moraleda as Arun and Rodney Afif as Yousif really shine. Afif gives us a man who is angry all the time, yet eventually we understand and even like him. Moraleda is not so showy but equally sympathetic.
There was some nice camera work and clever cutting though at times the story meandered a bit. Entertaining and thoughtful.
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