It is easy to both overestimate and underestimate the complexity of Ten Canoes: at once a story about a love triangle, revenge gone wrong, coming of age and a fat man who indulges in too much honey, it is set a thousand years ago in a tribal society of northern Australia, in which sorcery and dance plays into its rich everyday culture. The result is a uniquely universal and completely enchanting experience.
David Gulpilil (Walkabout), Australia’s acclaimed indigenous actor, narrates this story within a story that takes place in mythical times, far before contact with whites. Yet, as he begins, the story is not so much told as it is seen, and Rolf de Heer’s arresting visual study of the swampy landscape and the work of real Aboriginal actors are the film’s true tours de force. At its basest level, Ten Canoes proves that a storyteller’s resources can be as limitless as his themes are timeless.