In 1931, three little girls are kidnapped from their families in Jigaloo, Australia and taken 1500 miles away to a camp at Moore River, because A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) is determined to save these natives from themselves. Molly (Everlyn Sampi), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monaghan) are no longer allowed to speak their native tongue as they begin their training to be domestic servants. At night, Molly chants to herself, “make me sick, these people, sick, make me sick ...” until she sees an opportunity to make a break.
From Patriot Games to The Bone Collector to the hoopla surrounding the upcoming The Quiet American, Australian director Phillip Noyce seems to be covering the sensational gamut, but nonetheless, his heart is in his camera lens when it comes to this film. Heavy, atmospheric, didgeridoo-derived music (by Peter Gabriel) and low, ominous camera angles overshadow a white woman’s voice as she tells the children where the dormitory is. Based on a book written by Molly’s daughter (Doris Pilkington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence), the film’s premise is simple, but every scene seethes with intensity and outrage as it displays this true account of textbook colonialism.
Until as recently as the 1970s, because of the Aborigine Act, half-caste Aborigines were abducted from their homes by the Australian government in an attempt to thin out the unwanted third race with desirable “white” blood. In the film, Mr. Neville claims this takes three generations or so — in addition to cultural reconditioning — and Branagh carries the load with disturbing poise as he promulgates his bedeviled philosophy. But Sampi, as 14-year-old Molly, is the film’s true jewel, because without a doubt, she compels our belief that one acute, introspective little girl is capable of conquering the Outback.
It’s ironic that the same rabbit-proof fence that Molly’s white father helped to construct across the continent becomes the girl’s only hope for home, and her native way of life.
Opens Christmas Day exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W. of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].